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Moving Closer to a Blood Test for Dementia

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 16, 2018

Every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops dementia. Researchers continue to search for a cure for the disease and are looking into a blood test to detect hallmark characteristics of dementia before other symptoms occur.

Learn more about two recent studies that used mass spectrometry to detect the presence of beta-amyloid – a protein present in the brains of people with dementia – providing a non-invasive way to diagnose the disease early.

Two Blood Test Studies, One Conclusion

Two different studies, a world apart, have developed blood tests that detect dementia with 90% accuracy decades before physical symptoms appear. The studies, one from Washington University in St. Louis, and the other an international research team composed of Australian and Japanese researchers, used mass spectrometry to detect beta-amyloid in the brain. Beta-amyloid proteins are a hallmark characteristic of the disease.

Dr. Randall Bateman from the Washington University in St. Louis study says, “The Japanese group independently developed a similar mass spectrometry assay and found nearly identical findings to ours. This indicates the test is repeatable and robust, even in different labs.” Dr. Bateman estimates the blood test may be able to detect beta-amyloid up to 20 years before dementia symptoms occur.

Current alternatives to blood tests include expensive and invasive PET scans and spinal taps, running $7,000 or more, and only able to detect beta-amyloid proteins with 20% – 30% accuracy.

Dr. Robert Vassar is a dementia researcher at Northwestern University and is hopeful for a blood test stating:

“A blood test is the easiest and fastest way [to a cure for dementia], and it’s certainly the cheapest way. If we could do a blood test, that would make things a lot simpler.”

Preventative Treatments Crucial to Cure for Dementia

Beta-amyloid in the brain is an indicator of dementia and is present before symptoms manifest themselves. New therapies may be able to slow or stop these plaques from progressing – meaning identifying them earlier is more important than ever.

When it comes to the progression of dementia, Dr. Vassar says, “There might be a point of no return.” This brings new importance to the search for a non-invasive and less expensive way to detect beta-amyloid. Bateman adds that once a preventative treatment is identified, “Then we will desperately need a simple screening test to identify those at risk and also help accurately diagnose those with symptoms.”

The blood test requires more clinical testing and validation, but researchers are hopeful it will be available to the public within a few years.

Would you get a blood test for dementia? Why or why not? We’d like to hear your thoughts on using a blood test to detect the disease in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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