News Feature | June 14, 2016

New Blood Test Accurately Detects Alzheimer's Years Before Symptoms Appear

By Suzanne Hodsden


A new blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease in the very earliest stages of the condition has been developed by researchers from Rowan University. The technology could enable a cost-effective and noninvasive diagnostic device that can accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer’s up to 10 years before common symptoms of the condition manifest themselves.

Before Alzheimer’s fully develops, patients suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but not all patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease.  By the time Alzheimer’s symptoms are fully developed, the brain has already deteriorated and effective treatments are limited.  An earlier diagnosis of the disease could allow patients to implement lifestyle changes or start treatments that could significantly delay progression of the disease.

In order to distinguish early cases of Alzheimer’s from other causes of MCI, such as breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis, researchers at Rowan University used human protein arrays to attract blood-borne autoantibodies. In a study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, the researchers found that 50 autoantibody biomarkers could accurately distinguish between Alzheimer’s and other early stage conditions nearly 100 percent of the time.

“About 60 percent of all MCI patients have MCI caused by an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. The remaining 40 percent of cases are caused by other factors, including vascular issues, drug side-effects, and depression,” Cassandra DeMarshall, lead author of the study and doctoral student, told Rowan Today. “To provide proper care, physicians need to know which cases of MCI are due to early Alzheimer’s and which are not.”

This proof-of-concept study looked at 236 blood samples, including 50 samples from patients with both MCI and low levels of amyloid-beta 42 peptide in their cerebrospinal fluid — thought to be a reliable indicator of early Alzheimer’s. 

Though a larger scale study is necessary to prove the team’s results more definitively, DeMarshall commented that the research could “open the door” to an inexpensive and noninvasive diagnostic tool for early stage Alzheimer’s.

Robert Nagele, Rowan’s senior researcher and founder of Durin Technologies, said that — to his knowledge — this was the first blood test based on autoantibody biomarkers to accurately detect Alzheimer’s before irreparable brain damage has occurred and when interventions are “more likely to be beneficial.”

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease affects 5 million Americans and is responsible for 500,000 deaths per year, according to a study published in Neurology. Recent projections, as reported by the Washington Post, estimate that these numbers will triple by 2050, costing the U.S. healthcare system $1.2 trillion.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations committee committed an additional $400 million to the NIH to fund Alzheimer’s research, bringing the NIH’s total investment to $1.3 billion.

Last year, a team from Northwestern University introduced a new MRI technique that could lead to an earlier diagnosis for Alzheimer’s. A skin test developed at the University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico could diagnose the disease earlier and lead researchers to a better understanding of the disease’s pathology.