Research shows progress toward creating Alzheimer's blood test

Scientists report a breakthrough in their work towards inexpensive, home Alzheimer's testing.

Scientists report a breakthrough in their work towards inexpensive, home Alzheimer's testing. Someday in the future, such a test may be available at Canadian and international internet pharmacies.

Due to the cost of PET scans and the discomfort of spinal taps, identifying symptoms has been the primary method of diagnosing Alzheimer's. The National Institutes of Health's (NIH) list of typical Alzheimer's symptoms includes poor memory, failing to articulate correct words and lapses in good decision making.

This new cooperative research from institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University measured physical changes - the amounts of specific blood proteins - that could correlate with Alzheimer's. The study included 600 subjects, consisting of Alzheimer's patients, people with a precursor to Alzheimer's known as mild cognitive impairment, and participants with no memory problems.

Correlations and distinctions were drawn between those with memory degenerative disorders and those without. The research won't result in production of an over-the-counter blood test immediately, but it's gotten the ball rolling.

"Though a blood test to identify underlying Alzheimer's disease is not quite ready for prime time given today's technology, we now have identified ways to make sure that a test will be reliable. In the meantime, the combination of a clinical exam and cerebrospinal fluid analysis remains the best tool for diagnosis in someone with memory or cognitive troubles," said William Hu, assistant professor of neurology at the Emory University School of Medicine.

While fatalities due to lung cancer and heart disease have dropped, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that 16 million Americans will suffer from this form of dementia in 2050 at its current rate of increase. Even what the NIH calls "moderate" Alzheimer's causes those afflicted to fail to recognize loved ones, hallucinate, and lose the ability to complete simple multi-step tasks such as dressing oneself. It can eventually lead to the cessation of bodily functions, and only five things kill more U.S. adults per year.

An ability to diagnose Alzheimer's in its earliest stages could change this trend. Following the recent failure of a clinical trial for a highly anticipated treatment, Reuters spoke to a handful of experts who stated that if Alzheimer's is to be curable at all, it must be diagnosed and treated at its early inception.