The most frequent question we’ve fielded on the website the past month: Is there a test for Alzheimer’s?
A Day Late & A Dollar Short
Until now, doctors could not diagnosis Alzheimer’s disease until stage two symptoms, and then only through CAT scans and MRIs. MRI and CAT scans show protein deposit growth in the brain area responsible for memory.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s in stage two frustrates doctors, patients, and loved ones worldwide.
For decades, researchers probed behind the scenes for better options. Several unrelated research projects the last couple years push us to the threshold of inexpensive, accurate tests to detect Alzheimer’s two decades before the first symptoms manifest.
One promising study focused on developing an Alzheimer’s blood test.
Washington University Study
A Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis study developed a blood test focusing on two beta-amyloid proteins:
By measuring the ratio between the two proteins, the blood test predicts Alzheimer’s up to two decades prior to first symptoms.
The researchers published their findings in the publication Neurology in August. Building on a previous Washington University of Medicine study, the researchers collected blood samples and administered PET scan to 158 adults 50, only 10 showing cognitive decline. The tests and PET scan agreed 88 percent of cases, no high enough to form an accurate clinical diagnosis.
How Does The Blood Test Work?
The test focuses on the amyloid beta 42 levels causing plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. Researchers concluded amyloid beta 42 levels decrease 10 to 15 percent compared to amyloid 40 in those developing amyloid plaques. The team theorize the amyloid deposits are forming in the brain instead of released into the bloodstream as normal.
Why Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Early Is Important?
Knowing decades ahead of certain Alzheimer’s might seem counter-productive and risk robbing years of worry-free normal living.
For some, knowing they will one day get Alzheimer’s enables them to plan and live their life with the knowledge. Most of us look back and our childhood and think how different we would do things if we could redo it with our current knowledge. Knowing when one is 30-40, they will get Alzheimer’s when they are around 65 allows one to face their fate head on.
Others might crumble under the weight of such knowledge. Knowing Alzheimer’s is down the road is a heavy load to carry through adult life.
However, detecting the disease early is a major step in developing a cure and better treatment. Advance detection provides researchers better participant pools for studies related to Alzheimer’s cures, treatment, and better understanding a disease that kills one of three seniors.
If you want to screen an asymptomatic population for a prevention trial, you would have to screen, say, 10,000 people just to get 1,500 or 2,000 that would qualify. Reducing the number of PET scans could enable us to conduct twice as many clinical trials for the same amount of time and money. It’s not the $4,000 per PET scan that we’re worried about. It’s the millions of patients that are suffering while we don’t have a treatment. If we can run these trials faster, that will get us closer to ending this disease.
The study is another step forward but more testing and FDA approval are necessary before a blood or urine test becomes standard medical practice.
Jerry Beller, Lead Author & Researcher, Beller Health Research Institute
Jerry is the lead author and researcher at Beller Health Research Institute. Among his accomplishments, Beller wrote the first book on the newest dementia classification, LATE, and is one of the few in the world to write books on all 15 primary dementia types.
 Barbara B. Bendlin and Henrik Zetterberg, ‘Screening with a High Precision Blood-Based Assay for Alzheimer Disease’, Neurology, 2019, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000008080 <https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000008080>.
 ‘Blood Test IDs Key Alzheimer’s Marker’, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 2017 <https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/blood-test-ids-key-alzheimers-marker-brain/> [accessed 12 August 2019].
 ‘Blood Test Is Highly Accurate at Identifying Alzheimer’s before Symptoms Arise’, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 2019 <https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/blood-test-is-94-accurate-at-identifying-early-alzheimers-disease/> [accessed 12 August 2019].