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Scientists Push Plan to Change How Researchers Define Alzheimer's

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJune 18, 2018

An international team of scientists is coming together to seek a better way to define Alzheimer’s and identify its presence in those who are in the earliest stages of the disease before symptoms occur. The proposed new framework uses biomarkers instead of symptoms to identify the presence of Alzheimer’s, which could allow researchers to more accurately understand the pathology of the disease.

Scientists Urge Use of Biomarkers to Define Alzheimer’s

An international team of scientists is urging the research community to look at Alzheimer’s in a different way. Until now, Alzheimer’s has been largely defined through symptoms like confusion or memory lapses. Now, scientists want to include biological changes, like beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, that can occur when Alzheimer’s begins.

Changing the way Alzheimer’s is viewed from a research perspective would help scientists understand what is happening in the brains of people who still have normal brain function but are likely to develop the disease. Eliezer Masliah, director of the Division of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging says, “There is a stage of the disease where there are no symptoms and we need to have some sort of a marker.”

Clifford Jack is an Alzheimer’s researcher at Mayo Clinic Rochester and is the first author of the paper describing the new proposal. He says that in the past, “a person displayed a certain set of signs and symptoms and it was expected that they had Alzheimer’s pathology. About 30% of people who met all the appropriate clinical criteria did not have Alzheimer’s disease.” Essentially, their cognitive issues were caused by something else.

The new framework would help scientists understand if the person in the study truly has Alzheimer’s. Jack continues, saying, “What we’re seeing now is that Alzheimer’s disease is defined by the presence of plaques and tangles in your brain.”

The Use of Biomarkers as a Tool for Researchers, Not Physicians

Scientists advocating for the use of biomarkers in Alzheimer’s diagnosis caution that the new approach is intended to be used by researchers, not doctors who treat people with Alzheimer’s or related forms of dementia.

Critics of the proposed new framework argue that biomarkers are not yet a reliable replacement for clinical symptoms. Proponents acknowledge that the use of biomarkers is still in early development.

Chief Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, Maria Carrillo says,” It’s a research framework meant to be tested, a tool for researchers, not for the doctor’s office.”

What do you think about using biomarkers to define Alzheimer’s? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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