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Blood Test to Screen for Alzheimer’s

Update Date: Mar 10, 2014 09:38 AM EDT

Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common type of dementia, can be difficult to treat. Several studies have identified many key factors that could help doctors screen patients for the disease and ideally prevent symptoms from manifesting early on by using early treatment methods. According to a new study, researchers believe that a blood test can be used to screen healthy people for their Alzheimer's risk with relatively great accuracy.

"This is a potential game-changer," said Dr. Howard Federoff, senior author and a neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center reported by CNN. "My level of enthusiasm is very high."

Current screening options for the disease include PET scans and spinal taps. These methods are not only unreliable, they are also expensive, impractical, and could be risky sometimes. In this recent study, Federoff and his colleagues set out to see if they could find a blood test capable of detecting the mental illness. They recruited 525 healthy seniors aged 70 and older, who were living near Rochester, New York and Irvine, California. The seniors all had their blood drawn at the beginning of the study and then at several points throughout the study.

 The researchers reported that throughout the five years of the study, 74 of the seniors were diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's disease or amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), which is a disease characterized mostly by memory loss. Out of this group of seniors, 46 had already been diagnosed at the start of the study. 28 of them, which the researchers called the converters, had developed mild Alzheimer's or aMCI during the study.

During the third year of the study, the researchers compared 53 participants with aMCI or mild Alzheimer's to 53 healthy seniors. The research team decided to test these two groups of people's fat levels since fat was the easiest thing to test with the lowest costs. They focused on a panel of 10 lipids present in the blood.

"The lipid panel was able to distinguish with 90 percent accuracy these two distinct groups: cognitively normal participants who would progress to MCI or AD within two to three years, and those who would remain normal in the near future," Federoff stated according to the press release. "We consider our results a major step toward the commercialization of a preclinical disease biomarker test that could be useful for large-scale screening to identify at-risk individuals. We're designing a clinical trial where we'll use this panel to identify people at high risk for Alzheimer's to test a therapeutic agent that might delay or prevent the emergence of the disease."

The study was published in Nature Medicine.

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