In 2017, an estimated 5.5 million Americans were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Of those individuals, roughly 200,000 are under the age of 65. Among American adults age 65 and up, one in 10 (approximately 5.3 million people) are fighting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a debilitating, degenerative, and ultimately incurable disease of the brain that causes memory loss and dementia.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is rarely diagnosed before memory loss and other symptoms appear, by which time the disease has already substantially progressed and brain damage is profound. However, a new test may be a game changer in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, or at least perhaps help halt its progression.
As Science Alert reports, the newly-developed Alzheimer’s blood test requires only a small amount of blood and is used to detect the presence of amyloid beta (Aβ) plaques in the body. While the specific cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, scientists and medical professionals agree that elevated levels of amyloid beta and another protein appear to be a pivotal part of the development of the disease.
Over time, the proteins build up in the brain, contributing to the as-yet irreparable damage that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Currently, these substances are extremely difficult to detect, even with invasive testing, and impossible to detect by merely screening blood. The new test, developed in part by Koichi Tanaka from the Shimadzu Corporation in Japan, appears to be a game-changer.
In a comprehensive study involving 373 patients hailing from both Japan and Australia, the novel blood test was able to accurately predict the accumulation of amyloid beta in over 90 percent of cases.
“From a tiny blood sample, our method can measure several amyloid-related proteins, even though their concentration is extremely low. We found that the ratio of these proteins was an accurate surrogate for brain amyloid burden.”
The scientific minds behind the new Alzheimer’s blood test believe that it’s possible that the new detection method could identify unusual levels of amyloid beta plaques two to three decades before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear, a breakthrough that could be a revolutionary step in the fight against the disease.
The new Alzheimer’s blood test doesn’t work specifically by tracking levels of amyloid beta in the body, but rather by scanning for a substance believed to be linked to the amyloid beta plaques. And while early diagnosis is far from a cure for the devastating disease, early detection may allow potential victims of the disease to make lifestyle changes that could potentially lessen the impact, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Another potential benefit of identifying Alzheimer’s disease decades before symptoms appear is in the field of medical research. It is possible that having access to patients in the early developmental stages of the disease may help scientists, physicians, and researchers discover methods to prevent, treat, slow the progression of, or even cure the disease.
“In the first instance, however, it will be an invaluable tool in increasing the speed of screening potential patients for new drug trials.”
According to lead researcher Colin Masters, of the University of Melbourne, the blood test could be a massive benefit to American senior citizens who may ultimately develop Alzheimer’s.
“I can see in the future, five years from now, where people have a regular checkup every five years after age 55 or 60 to determine whether they are on the Alzheimer’s pathway or not.”