Alzheimer’s disease is wreaking havoc on public health, costing Americans an estimated $259 billion in debt along with untold personal trauma. Researchers are still working to understand what triggers the disease and, ultimately, how to stop it, but their focus is on early prevention and detection.
Learn more about the scientists who are working towards a better, cheaper Alzheimer’s test and how it can impact society today.
Alzheimer’s is a leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting an estimated 5.3 million people. There is currently no cure or treatment for the disease, but scientists are making strides against it – opening up more opportunities for research and expanding treatment options.
Their goal is to develop more accurate, less expensive and less invasive tests to detect the changes in the brain that Alzheimer’s brings.
At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in London, researchers presented data on a new blood test and brain imaging technique that would allow people in the early stages of the disease to be identified. Dr. Gil Rabinovici, neurologist from the University of California, San Francisco Memory and Aging Center, says: “We can develop a much more rational care plan with this biological information.”
He went on to say, “The value of receiving a diagnosis… leads to a clear plan. A lot of times the uncertainty is worse than the certainty.”
Researchers know that Alzheimer’s brings changes to the brain that involve plaques and tangles of proteins called amyloid and tau. Until recently, this phenomenon could only be seen after a person’s death. Now, biomarker tests can detect amyloid but these tests are generally used only for research because they are expensive and often call for special technology.
Providing a way to detect beta amyloid that is cheaper, easier and less invasive may mean that more people have access to these tests and could also mean more data into the pathology of Alzheimer’s, ultimately leading to a cure.
For people with the disease, early detection could mean more options and more time to prepare for a future with dementia.
One of these tests is a simple blood test, cheaper than PET scans and significantly less invasive than a test of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Researchers believe that they may be able to tell if amyloid is in the brain through a blood test that shows decreased levels of soluble amyloid in the blood – potentially meaning that the amyloid is clumping in the brain and forming plaques.
Dr. Randall Bateman, neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine says, “It’s not a perfect test compared to PET and CSF.” Though, he does acknowledges that it could be used to screen a large population to see who should receive further testing.
Would you participate in a test that would show the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s? Why or why not? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.