Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. It affects the lives of over 5 million Americans age 65 and over, not to mention the toll it takes on their loved ones and caregivers. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, and its degenerative progression cannot currently be reversed or even stopped. In fact, there are currently no definitive tests for Alzheimer’s disease in a living sufferer (confirmation of the disease is made after death, during the autopsy process). Current tests are diagnostic in nature, and confirmation of the disease is generally the result of observed neurological decline in accordance with the expectations of the diseases’s progression. Despite having no cure, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease allows sufferers and their loved ones/caregivers to seek symptom treatment early on, as well as make long-term plans for the future.
Now, a new study from the USDA’s Monell Center is providing hope that a non-invasive exam to test for Alzheimer’s may be within our reach, and from a very unlikely source. Medical Express reports that the Monell Center has identified a unique and identifiable “odor signature” present in the urine of mice with APP (the mouse equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease). Not only is the unique odor signature observable among mouse models of the disease, it is detectable before the development of significant Alzheimer’s-like changes in the brains of the mice.
“Previous research from the USDA and Monell has focused on body odor changes due to exogenous sources such as viruses or vaccines. Now we have evidence that urinary odor signatures can be altered by changes in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The author of the study, Bruce Kimball, Ph.D, goes on to state that the new findings could have profound implications beyond early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, potentially expanding to other neurologic diseases.
While the new research is admittedly in the early, “proof-of-concept” stage, study author Daniel Wesson, Ph.D, is hopeful that the research is on the right track. Wesson, a neuroscientist at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, believes that the recent discovery could be beneficial to people potentially suffering from Alzheimer’s in the future.
“While this research is at the proof-of-concept stage, the identification of distinctive odor signatures may someday point the way to human biomarkers to identify Alzheimer’s at early stages.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease unique to the human brain. To conduct their study, published in the online journal Scientific Reports, researches used mice of three different APP mouse models, created by scientists to have brains that mimic the pathology of Alzheimer’s in humans. One of the most common indicators of the disease in humans is an excess of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain. This anomaly is recreated in study mice by introducing human genes into their genomes; these genes (which are known to be associated with the amyloid-β precursor in humans). Ultimately, these genes are activated in the study mice through pharmaceutical methods, leading to amyloid plaque build-up in their brains.
The APP mice were analyzed both clinically and behaviorally, and according to the published study, the results were profound. Researchers discovered that each of the three strains of modified study mice produced “urine profiles” that were distinguishable from the control mice. The differences in odor appeared to be largely unaffected by the age of the mice. Perhaps more importantly, the notable differences in the urine odor came before plaque build-up was detectable in the mice. According to researchers, this indicates that the changes in the urine odor is related to the gene responsible for the development of the disease rather than the changes to the brain caused by excessive plaque.
While further studies on this initial research, up to and including human studies, are definitely needed to potentially determine what Alzheimer’s-related biomarkers may exist in humans as well as their potential for early diagnosis of the devastating disease, this newly released research sheds some hope. Alzheimer’s disease can seem hopeless, and any progress in the fight against its tyranny is a step in the right direction.
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