Is The Alzheimer’s Blood Test Too Good To Be True?

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMarch 12, 2014

Researchers from two prominent universities have created a blood test that can assess an individual’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The blood test is less painful, less expensive, and more accessible than current methods of assessing risk. In addition, it has the potential to change the future of early Alzheimer’s treatment methods. Is it too good to be true?

Accessible Assessment of Risk

A new study published in Nature Magazine reports that researchers from Georgetown University and University of Rochester have found a way to evaluate the risk of Alzheimer’s through a blood test. Researchers observed 525 senior adults over a 5 year span. By collecting and examining the amount of 10 different fats in the collected blood, researchers could predict if the individual was at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of the study, they found 74 adults who showed signs of Alzheimer’s or early Alzheimer’s.

The new blood test is significant in the fight against Alzheimer’s because it is less expensive and less painful that other methods of assessing risk. Currently, expensive brain scans are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Another method involves spinal fluid extraction which can be painful for the patient. Perhaps the most significant part of the new blood test, is the potential it has to diagnose Alzheimer’s early which can lead to better treatment options.

Changing the Future of Early Alzheimer’s Treatment

According to Howard Federoff, a professor of neurology and the executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center, the blood test can determine if a senior might develop Alzheimer’s within the next three years with 90% accuracy

Early discovery of Alzheimer’s is critical to treatment. While heartbreaking, an early diagnosis has the potential to: 

  • Give families more time to plan for the future
  • Give the patient the ability to participate in clinical trials
  • Allow the patient the ability to better report symptoms and concerns
  • Maximize opportunities for independence
  • Give the patient the best chance to benefit from treatments
  • Make life changes that may slow the disease

Is It All Too Good to Be True? 

Some scientists are cautious to accept that the study is representative of a real-world screening population. The study showed a 5% rate of conversion, meaning that 5% of participants went from normal cognition to either mild impairment or full Alzheimer’s disease. If this is representative of the real world, the test has a positive predictive value of 35% and nearly two thirds of positive results would be false. Researchers caution that a positive predictive value of 90% as found in this particular study is the minimum for any kind of screening test.

The test will need to undergo further research before it can be used outside of clinical trials.

But it could be a step in the right direction. Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association called for more prevention research by saying,

“This field needs better methods to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest time point, to allow us to intervene with potential prevention strategies.”

What do you think about the new blood test? Would you want to find out your risk of developing Alzheimer’s? 

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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