Researchers at Rowan University in New Jersey have developed a new form of blood test that is capable of detecting the early signs of Alzheimer's disease development in people with 100 percent accuracy.
While Alzheimer's is mostly seen in patients aged 65 and above, an early onset of the disease has also been found in people who are 40 to 50 years old.
Affected individuals often start out suffering mild memory loss, but as their condition progresses, they begin to lose their ability to respond to their environment and carry out conversations.
To help determine Alzheimer's disease risk, Cassandra DeMarshall and her colleagues at Rowan have developed a new blood test that can detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often seen in people about 10 years before they begin to show severe symptoms of the disorder.
Not every person who has MCI ends up developing Alzheimer's. The condition can also be caused by other illnesses such as a traumatic brain injury, depression, vascular problems, multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease.
However, the researchers believe that their new diagnostic can identify the exact forms of MCI that are likely to develop into advanced Alzheimer's with an overall accuracy, sensitivity and specificity rate of 100 percent.
The blood test has already been tried on 236 individuals, about 50 of which have been diagnosed with MCI.
DeMarshall said they were able to show that some autoantibodies in the human blood can be used to accurately detect an early onset of Alzheimer's in patients. The results of their study can lead to the creation of a more affordable and relatively noninvasive method of diagnosing the mental disorder during its early stages.
If the findings of the Rowan University paper are confirmed in a large-scale study, experts believe it could provide a better diagnostic to help patients with MCI seek the right form of treatment early on.
It could also serve as a less costly and psychologically taxing alternative to traditional treatments for family members who are responsible for taking care of their loved ones with Alzheimer's.
The researchers said about 60 percent of patients they were able to study had mild cognitive impairment that is caused by an early onset of Alzheimer's. This means that doctors have to find out exactly which MCI cases are caused by the disorder and which ones are not, in order to provide proper care.
Research team leader Dr. Robert Nagele explained that their findings are important because early signs of Alzheimer's disease often manifest in the brain of patients at least 10 years before they develop into telltale symptoms.
He said their new blood test is the first of its kind to use autoantibody biomarkers to accurately determine Alzheimer's risk at an early point, when disease treatments could have better effects on sufferers.
The results of the Rowan University are featured in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.