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Blood test shows signs of Alzheimer’s years before symptoms appear: scientists

A simple blood test can detect signs of Alzheimer’s 17 years before symptoms appear, new research finds.

Scientists have developed a sensor that can detect signs of the condition before they first manifest. It should mean that older people can be easily screened for the disease.

If they show signs, they can be given drugs at an early stage when they work better.

Klaus Gerwert and Léon Beyer conduct research
Part of the Bochum research team: Klaus Gerwert (L) and Léon Beyer in an undated photo. According to their research, a simple blood test can detect signs of Alzheimer’s 17 years before symptoms appear.
RUB, Marquard, SWNS/Zenger

Researchers hope that the disease will one day be stopped while patients are asymptomatic and before irreversible damage occurs.

The device works by sniffing out where the protein amyloid beta, which can help identify the disease, has folded and lost its original shape.

Misfolded proteins also play a role in the development of other diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

As the disease progresses, this misfolding can cause plaques in the brain.

The German scientists hope that the breakthrough will enable the development of other drugs against Alzheimer’s in the future and the further development of existing drugs so that they work better.

Clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs have failed by the dozen because plaque tests don’t detect the disease in time.

Once plaques appear, they appear to irreversibly damage the brain.

In existing tests, the plaques are either detected via an expensive PET scan in the brain, or detected indirectly.

The new sensor shows the misfolded proteins that cause the plaques to appear, meaning the disease can be detected earlier.

Computerized blood test results on screen
A laboratory technician checks computerized blood test results at Maccabi Health Services’ HMO Central Laboratory January 22, 2006 in Nes Tsiona, Israel. A simple blood test can detect signs of Alzheimer’s 17 years before symptoms appear, new research finds.
David Silverman/Getty Images

For the study, the team analyzed the blood plasma of Germans to look for signs of the disease.

The blood samples were drawn between 2000 and 2002 before being frozen.

The participants were aged between 50 and 75 at the time and had not yet been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The team then selected 68 participants who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during the 17-year follow-up and compared them to 240 people who had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The sensor was able to identify the 68 people who later developed Alzheimer’s with high accuracy.

They then tried other gadgets, including the P-tau181, which is thought to show promise, but found they couldn’t spot the disease 17 years earlier.

The team found that analyzing the concentration of the glial fibrillary protein can reveal the disease up to 17 years before symptoms appear, although this is much less accurate than the sensor.

Analysis of both the fold protein and the glial fibrillary protein concentration could further increase the accuracy of the assay.

“Our goal is to use a simple blood test to determine the risk of later developing Alzheimer’s dementia, even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain, in order to be able to initiate therapy in good time,” says the first author of the study Professor Klaus Gerwert, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.

The team founded the start-up BetaSENSE, patented the drug and hope to bring it to market soon.

Gerwert adds: “The vision is that the disease can be stopped in a symptom-free stage before irreversible damage occurs.”

The study’s first author Léon Beyer, a Ph.D. Student at the same university said: “The exact timing of the therapeutic intervention will become even more important in the future.

“The success of future drug studies will depend on the study participants being correctly characterized and not showing any irreversible damage at the time of entry into the study.”

The results were published in the journal on July 19 Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Produced in collaboration with SWNS.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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