Blood Test Spots Signs of Alzheimer's Years Before Symptoms Appear: Scientists

A simple blood test can spot signs of Alzheimer's 17 years before symptoms appear, according to new research.

Scientists have created a sensor that can detect signs of the condition years before they first manifest themselves. It should mean older people can be screened easily for the disease.

If they are showing signs of it, they can be given drugs at an early stage when they will work better.

Klaus Gerwert and Léon Beyer research
Part of the Bochum research team: Klaus Gerwert (L) and Léon Beyer in an undated photograh. A simple blood test can spot signs of Alzheimer’s 17 years before symptoms appear, according to their research. RUB, Marquard, SWNS/Zenger

The researchers hope one day the disease will be stopped while patients still have no symptoms and before any irreversible damage occurs.

The gadget works by sniffing out where the protein amyloid-beta, which can help identify the disease, has folded and lost its original shape.

Misfolded proteins also play a role in the development of other diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntingdon's disease.

As the disease progresses, this misfolding can cause plaques in the brain.

The German academics hope the breakthrough will allow more Alzheimer's-busting drugs to be developed in the future and allow existing ones to be developed to work better.

Clinical trials for Alzheimer's drugs have been failing by the dozen because plaque tests used in them do not flag up the disease in time.

Once plaques appear they seem to do irreversible damage to the brain.

In existing tests, the plaques are either detected in the brain via an expensive PET scan or detected indirectly.

The new sensor flags up the misfolding proteins, which cause the plaques to appear, meaning the disease can be caught earlier.

Computerized blood test results on screen
A laboratory technician double-checks computerized blood test results at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory on January 22, 2006, in Nes Tsiona, Israel. A simple blood test can spot signs of Alzheimer’s 17 years before symptoms appear, according to new research. David Silverman/Getty Images

For the study, the team analyzed the blood plasma of Germans to look for signs of the condition.

The blood samples had been taken between 2000 and 2002 before being frozen.

Back then, participants were between 50 and 75 years old and had not yet been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

The team then selected 68 participants who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease during the 17-year followup and compared them with 240 people who had not been diagnosed with it.

The sensor was able to identify the 68 people who later developed Alzheimer's with a high degree of accuracy.

They then tried other gadgets, including the P-tau181 which is seen as promising, but found they could not detect the disease 17 years early.

The team found analyzing the concentration of glial fiber protein can also indicate the disease up to 17 years before symptoms appear even though it does so much less precisely than the sensor.

Analyzing both the folding protein and glial fiber protein concentration could further increase the accuracy of the test.

"Our goal is to determine the risk of developing Alzheimer's dementia at a later stage with a simple blood test even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain, in order to ensure that a therapy can be initiated in time," said lead study author Professor Klaus Gerwert, of Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.

The team have founded start-up BetaSENSE, patented the drug and hope to bring it to market soon.

Gerwert added: "The vision is that the disease can be stopped in a symptom-free stage before irreversible damage occurs."

The study's first author Léon Beyer, who is a Ph.D. student at the same university said: "The exact timing of therapeutic intervention will become even more important in the future.

"The success of future drug trials will depend on the study participants being correctly characterized and not yet showing irreversible damage at study entry."

The findings were published July 19 in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.

Produced in association with SWNS.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.