Last Updated: April 8, 2019
‘The latest blood test to detect Alzheimer’s may be able to predict the disease 10 years before symptoms occur with 100% accuracy. Researchers from the National Institute on Aging are focusing on a protein in the brain called IRS-1 that may signal the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s.
Learn more about this study and what it means for future treatment and prevention methods.
This year has seen the development of a few types of blood tests that could potentially diagnose Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear. One test uses fats in the bloodstream to predict the disease within three years with 90% accuracy, while the other blood test examined blood proteins and was able to predict the onset of dementia within a year with 87% accuracy.
The most recent test promises to detect Alzheimer’s earlier than any other test ever has by looking at a single protein in the brain called IRS-1, which plays a critical role in insulin signaling in the brain and is commonly defective in people with the disease.
Researchers from the National Institute on Aging, who presented the study at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C., gathered blood samples from 174 participants. Of the 174 participants, 70 had Alzheimer’s, 20 had diabetes and 84 were healthy. They found that the participants who had Alzheimer’s had higher amounts of the inactive form of IRS-1 and lower amounts of the active form than those adults who were healthy. The participants who were diabetic had intermediate levels of IRS-1.
The results of the study were so consistent across the board that researchers were able to look at results and predict with 100% accuracy if the person was healthy or had Alzheimer’s.
Another study from the University of Otago has also revealed another blood marker that could help diagnose Alzheimer’s through a simple blood test. Researchers found that participants with a small number of molecules found in the blood and brain called microRNAs can correctly detect Alzheimer’s with 86% accuracy.
This study involved participants that had been diagnosed with the disease, as well as neurologically healthy individuals. Researchers found that three microRNAs were different between the two groups and detecting these microRNAs would be possible through a simple blood test. Dr. Joanna Williams, who led the screening of microRNA in blood samples of participants, says, “Although there are other known markers of early Alzheimer’s disease, such as an accumulation of the protein beta-amyloid in the brain, testing for these involves expensive or invasive procedures that can’t be used in routine clinical practice.”
Dr. Williams went on to state, “We know that the levels of these microRNAs differ in people who have Alzheimer’s and people who don’t. So if a general practitioner took a blood sample from a patient who was beginning to show symptoms of memory loss, what we’d do is analyze that blood and see how that patient’s pattern of microRNA compares against established patterns.”
More research is needed before a blood test can be definitively used to diagnose Alzheimer’s, but it is something researchers are working towards. They hope to not only develop a test to detect the presence of Alzheimer’s but also to find early signs of the disease, before symptoms appear, optimizing treatment options for the individual.
Researchers hope that their findings lead to breakthroughs in treatment methods. Senior study author, Dr. Ed Goetzl, says:
“My vision of the future is you have your breakfast cereal, and on one side you have a statin for cardiovascular disease and on the other side you have three pills to prevent dementia.”
He went on to state that, “This study shows that insulin resistance is a major central nervous system metabolic abnormality in Alzheimer’s disease that contributes to neural cell damage. As insulin resistance is a known condition in type 2 diabetes… and is treatable with several classes of existing drugs, these treatments may be useful as part of a multi-agent program for Alzheimer’s.”
The blood test is still in the early stages of development and will require a larger and longer study before it can be used to detect Alzheimer’s. The lead author of the study and neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, Dimitrios Kapagiannis, says: “We will need replication and validation, but I’m very optimistic this work will hold.”
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