Millions of Americans are affected by Alzheimer's disease and its debilitating symptoms. While the condition cannot be cured, if it's identified and treated early, the side effects can be temporarily slowed, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In an effort to make the early stages of the disease easier to catch, researchers are creating a new blood test that may detect the beginning of Alzheimer's.
Scientists from the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey have reported being close to developing a blood test that, if successful, will enable physicians to start helping patients during the first and most treatable stages of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers' work was presented at the 2015 Osteopathic Medical Conference and Exposition in Orlando, Florida.
How does the test work?
The scientists, led by Robert Nagele, Ph.D., created a biomarker using autoantibodies - proteins that immune systems produce - found in the blood. These biomarkers are not only able to identify the presence of Alzheimer's, but the stage that the person is in. If the test is as effective as Nagele and the researchers are hoping, it will detect the disease long before any symptoms emerge, providing patients with the autoantibody biomarkers time to adopt lifestyle habits that could slow the condition's progression.
"There are significant benefits to early disease detection because we now know that many of the same conditions that lead to vascular disease are also significant risk factors for Alzheimer's," Nagele explained. "People found to have preclinical disease can take steps to improve their vascular health, including watching their diet, exercising and managing any weight and blood pressure issues to help stave off or slow disease progression."
Alzheimer's isn't the only disease that Nagele's blood test has shown promise at detecting. In the past, it has helped identify patients in the early stages of breast cancer, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. The researchers look at a patient's autoantibody profile, which consists of thousands of autoantibodies that show visible changes in characteristic when affected by certain diseases. The blood test identifies these profile alterations.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any blood tests with similar capabilities, Nagele and his team want to develop the first of its kind. He hopes that if doctors have the tools to detect the disease's presence before the symptoms emerge, people who are at the earliest of stages of Alzheimer's will want to start living a healthier lifestyle.
Healthy lifestyle linked to reduced Alzheimer's risk
Although there's no known cause of Alzheimer's disease, past research has made it clear that a healthy blood-brain barrier is crucial to avoiding memory loss. Maintaining brain health is difficult when people have conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure - these illnesses cause the blood vessels in the brain to weaken as people age, causing them to leak. Once this happens, autoantibodies responsible for the onset of Alzheimer's and similar diseases are able to enter the brain.
Dr. Jennifer Caudle, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University, pointed out that patients often fail to eat properly and get enough exercise until their health begins to decline, forcing them to take action. She believes that patients would jump on the opportunity to begin living healthier if they were given the chance to slow the progression of a debilitating disease like Alzheimer's.
So far, the blood test has shown a lot of promise and may become widely used to slow the progression of the most prevalent memory-loss condition in the country.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living