Diagnosing the chronic, neurodegenerative condition that is Alzheimer’s Disease requires thorough medical assessment that involves many tests to rule out other issues. However, a team of Japanese and Australian researchers may have just sped up the process through a simple and affordable blood examination.
The new test, published in the journal Nature, determines the accumulation of amyloid-beta — protein structures that form plaque in the brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s Disease — the most common type of dementia — is unknown, but buildup of amyloid-beta is one marker that physicians check in its management.
Today, the protein is screened through more risky and highly-invasive procedures, such as positron-emission tomography (PET) scans (which involves radiation) and lumbar punctures (inserting a needle through the lower back to extract cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal).
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s Disease is irreversible. Early signs include memory loss, wandering and getting lost, loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative, repeating questions, poor judgment leading to bad decisions and mood/personality changes.
The researchers, including Nobel chemistry laureate Koichi Tanaka, believe that the new test will facilitate “broader clinical access and efficient population screening.”
With just 0.5 milliliter of blood, they were able to extract substances related to amyloid beta and measure them through mass spectrometry technology. The accumulation is then confirmed based on the ratio of such substances.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that their study matched 90% of PET scan results in a survey of 373 people aged 60 to 90 in Japan (121) and Australia (252).
Katsuhiko Yanagisawa, director-general of the Research Institute of the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, told The Japan Times:
“We may be able to use this (new) method broadly in medical examinations for the elderly if it becomes possible to cure or prevent Alzheimer’s.”
Indeed, the new test is promising for an aging Japan, where over 60% of more than five million elderly people struggling with dementia are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.