Scientists are progressing with developing a blood test that checks for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of Dementia and in the UK alone it is speculated that over 850,000 people are affected, with millions of others also affected worldwide.
It is caused by an increase in the levels of two proteins in the brain- amyloid and tau. These protein deposits accumulate in the brain and cause damage to nerve cells. These cells are used to communicate with each other for healthy cognitive function. This damage leads to the common symptoms we associate with Alzheimer’s including forgetfulness, confusion and difficulty with communication. Whilst these proteins are naturally occurring, abnormal levels in the brain that go beyond what is expected with normal ageing would be a sign that an individual may be in the very early stages of the disease.
The blood test is currently being developed by the Washington University School of Medicine, in St Louis, Missouri. It works by measuring levels of protein amyloid-beta in the brain. This combined with a couple of other contributing factors; such as whether the individual is over 65 years of age and whether they also have the presence of another protein in the brain called APOE4; gives the blood test a 94% accuracy in detecting a very early diagnosis. Supposedly up to 20 years prior to experiencing any symptoms!
The blood test would not only help individuals concerned about their likelihood of being affected by Alzheimer’s. It would also help relieve pressure on our hospitals. At present, the only way you can be screened for the disease is by undergoing a brain scan. This is incredibly time-consuming and expensive. These results would also only show very small differences between an Alzheimer’s patient and a healthy elderly person, so they are not always effective. The availability of a blood test would mean a much larger frequency of individuals can be screened at once. Which would, in turn, mean that treatments can be found quicker. With results from clinical trials more readily available.
Whilst the reception to a potential new blood test for Alzheimer’s has been positive. There has been some speculation that this would not benefit those already affected. It is also problematic in that for many individuals with an early diagnosis of the condition, do not progress to have Alzheimer’s. At present there are no treatments available to halt or prevent the disease from worsening. If made aware of any risks potentially up to two decades prior, the individual may wish to implement certain tasks into their daily routine to help stimulate cognitive function such as cooking, playing games and engaging in discussions. It is speculated that an increase in brain stimulation may lead to an improvement in memory and thinking skills going forward. As well as enhancing general wellbeing.
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