Can a blood test predict whether a patient will develop Alzheimer's disease a decade before it happens? Research claims that the changes in the levels of a protein in the blood can shed light on brain damage before symptoms appear.
According to the researchers, while there is still no way to prevent the disease from progressing, they believe that early diagnosis could help doctors anticipate when patients could start experiencing symptoms.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Finding Signs Of Alzheimer's In The Blood
The key to the early detection of Alzheimer's disease is a protein called neurofilament. The researchers explained that when brain cells die, their remains can be detected in the patient's blood, but often, these proteins are degraded and, therefore, can not be used as markers for the neurodegenerative disease.
However, there is an exception. The researchers said that neurofilament is surprisingly resistant to degradation.
In their study, they found that neurofilament accumulates in the blood years before symptoms of the neurodegenerative disease appear. They detected the presence of the protein during a study that involved 405 people across the world.
The researchers collected data and samples from the individuals and monitored their health every year before the calculated onset of dementia symptoms occur. They found that there was a noticeable difference in the levels of neurofilament in the blood.
"It is not the absolute neurofilament concentration, but its temporal evolution, which is meaningful and allows predictions about the future progression of the disease," stated Mathias Jucker, a senior researcher from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease and an author of the study.
The researchers claim that the changes in neurofilament concentration in the blood accurately reflects the degradation of the brain cells. This will allow doctors to predict how the brain damage will develop in the future.
A Step Toward Finding The Cure
The researchers believe that the discovery is an important step toward ending Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia that has affected up to 5 million people in the United States as of 2014.
The research proves that while the buildup of the amyloid in the brain triggers the progression of the disease, the neuronal degradation occurs independently.
Moreover, the researchers argue that there has been a little progress in the hunt for the cure of Alzheimer's disease because it is diagnosed after symptoms have started manifesting.
"The fact that there is still no effective treatment for Alzheimer's is partly because current therapies start much too late," said Jucker.