A study published in the journal Neurology on Thursday reveals a new blood test that can detect Alzheimer's up to 20 years before it begins wreaking its debilitating effects with 94 percent accuracy, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis declared that the blood test can detect key changes in the brain that indicate the disease. They believe that the new test represents a major step forward in the mission to find a cure for the neurodegenerative illness, which is characterized by memory loss and confusion.
Randall Bateman, professor of neurology and senior author of the study, commented on the results, stating that the blood test is much more effective and simpler than a PET brain scan, which is the typical way people are screened for the disease.
"Right now we screen people for clinical trials with brain scans, which is time-consuming and expensive, and enrolling participants takes years. But with a blood test, we could potentially screen thousands of people a month."The professor added that with faster screening methods, they can efficiently enroll participants in clinical trials, which will aid them in finding treatments faster and could have an enormous impact on the cost of the disease as well as the human suffering that goes with it. Researchers explained that clumps of the protein amyloid beta begin to form in the brain up to 20 years before the onset of the disease, which can be detected in the blood using a technique called mass spectrometry. Depending on the levels of the protein found in the blood, scientists can predict how much has already accumulated in the brain. Combined with other Alzheimer's risk factors, including age and the presence of the genetic variant APOE4, scientists can identify brain changes with 94 percent accuracy.
As the test represents a breakthrough in early diagnostic methods for the disease, scientists emphasize that until treatments to halt the disease are developed, the benefits of early blood testing will be delayed.
Up until now, clinical trials have had difficulty finding enough participants with brain changes related to the disease who haven't yet experienced the cognitive problems that are characteristic of Alzheimer's in order to develop effective preventative drugs, according to Medical Xpress.
The blood test opens up possibilities for clinical trials aimed to evaluate whether drugs can prevent Alzheimer's dementia as consensus among researchers grows that Alzheimer's treatment needs to begin as early as possible, even before cognitive symptoms present.