Scientists in the United Kingdom have discovered a way to potentially predict the likelihood of a person to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life.

In a study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, King's College London (KCL) researcher Dr. Steven Kiddle and his colleagues studied data collected from over 100 sets of twins to find a particular biomarker that could help indicate risk for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Their goal was to demonstrate that any connections between blood protein and the decline in cognitive skills are not influenced by the genetics or age of an individual.

"Although we are still searching for an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease, what we do know is that prevention of the disease is likely to be more effective than trying to reverse it," Kiddle said.

For a prevention test to be effective, the researchers needed participants who were at risk to develop Alzheimer's disease. Finding such individuals for the test, however, proved to be a difficult task.

While brain scans with positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be used to identify signs of the disease before they develop, the process requires specialized facilities and it is too expensive to conduct.

Kiddle and his team instead used a protein biomarker discovery tool to examine around 1,000 proteins found in the blood of 106 pairs of twins. The tool allowed them to measure a wide range of proteins in the body.

The cognitive ability of each participant was assessed through the use of a computerized test designed to detect cognitive changes relating to Alzheimer's disease. The results were then compared with the levels of proteins measured in the blood of every participant.

The KCL researchers found that levels of a particular protein known as MAPKAPK5 were lower in the blood of participants who experienced a significant decline in their cognitive ability in over ten years.

The levels of MAPKAPK5 seemed to be linked with the change in cognitive skills in both the individuals and within the pairs of twins.

The study is the first instance wherein the MAPKAPK5 protein was identified with the development of Alzheimer's disease. Earlier studies have investigated its connection to rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

Kiddle said that their next goal is to replicate the results of their study in order to confirm if the findings were specific only to Alzheimer's disease. He believes the study could be used to develop a reliable form of blood test to help clinicians identify potential subjects for prevention tests.

If the MAPKAPK5 protein proves to be an effective biomarker for modifiable cognitive aging, it would be significantly beneficial to other scientists in recruiting suitable at-risk individuals for prevention trials.

The King's College London study is featured in Translational Psychiatry.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | Flickr 

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