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New Hope for Earlier Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Updated on October 7, 2015

Prevalence of Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds. In fact, as of 2015, 5.3 million Americans are estimated to have this disease. Of these 5.1 million are aged 65 years and above. Given these statistics, chances are that most families will at some point need to cope with an elderly member being diagnosed with the disorder.

The reality, however, is that scientists are still not sure what exactly causes the disorder and therefore most treatments can only hope to delay degeneration. The good news for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients is that recent studies have brought new hope in terms of early diagnosis and maybe even prevention.

BioMarkers Predict Risk of Alzheimer’s

The reason why there is no cure for this disease or even treatments that can modify the ailment is that the problem cannot be detected till the disease has progressed and becomes evident in the form of cognitive and functional deterioration. However, according to research conducted by a team of scientists in the US and published in Nature Medicine in April 2014, blood-based biomarkers, in the form of lipids from peripheral blood, have been identified that could predict vulnerability to the disease.

“This biomarker panel, reflecting cell membrane integrity, may be sensitive to early neurodegeneration of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease,” the research report said. Although further study is needed on this, it does bring a glimmer of hope for early diagnosis and treatment.

Genes Might Increase Risk

Recent research has revealed that a majority of patients with early onset Alzheimer’s inherit the disease due to various gene mutations that occur in chromosomes 1, 14 and 21, says an August 2014 article in Medical News Today. On the other hand, for later-onset Alzheimer’s, a gene known as apolipoprotein E or APOE has been implicated. Another study in 2014 showed that there were 11 genes that could increase the risk of developing the disease.

Although it is still not known how these genes increase risk, it does give hope for finding means to prevent and treat the disorder. Hope for potentially preventing the disorder gives hope especially to caregivers of the elderly, says New Jersey based assisted living services provider, Seacrest Village.

Neuroimaging for Earlier Detection

Possibly, the most promising way of detection the development of the disease is through neuroimaging. Today, MRIs and CT scans are more often used to rule out other conditions, such as tumors, strokes, etc, that could lead to symptoms similar to those caused by Alzheimers. However, research has led to the discovery that a major neurological feature that precedes cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid plaque. According to an article published by the Alzheimer Association’s Research Center in 2015, the US FDA approved the first molecular imaging tracer in 2012, for use in evaluating the possibility of Alzheimer’s.

Another molecular imaging tracer was approved in 2013. Apart from molecular imaging, studies have also shown the efficacy of structural and functional imaging in detecting the disease.

Proteins in the Cerebrospinal Fluid Implicated

The cerebrospinal fluid works as a cushion for the brain and spinal cord and can be sampled easily via a minimally invasive lumbar puncture. Studies have shown that early stages of Alzheimer’s disease lead to changes in this fluid, especially in the levels of the proteins, tau and beta-amyloid. In fact, research published in the journal, Annals of Neurology, shows that tau levels are found to be increased, irrespective of the age of onset, clinical stage or APOE genotype implicated.

The research concluded that “the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay of cerebrospinal fluid tau may prove to be a reliable and early diagnostic test for AD.”


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