A simple blood test reliably detects signs of brain damage in people on the path to developing Alzheimer’s disease-even before they show signs of confusion and memory loss, according to a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.
The findings, published Jan. 21 in Nature Medicine, may one day be applied to quickly and inexpensively identify brain damage in people with not just Alzheimer’s disease but other neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury or stroke.
Senior author Mathias Jucker, Ph.D., a professor of cellular neurology at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Tübingen, along with Gordon and colleagues from all over the world, studied whether levels of the protein in blood also reflect neurological damage.
To find out whether protein blood levels could be used to predict cognitive decline, the researchers collected data on 39 people with disease-causing variants when they returned to the clinic an average of two years after their last visit.
The researchers found that people whose blood protein levels had previously risen rapidly were most likely to show signs of brain atrophy and diminished cognitive abilities when they revisited the clinic.
Protein levels are high in people with Lewy body dementia and Huntington’s disease; they rise dramatically in people with multiple sclerosis during a flare-up and in football players immediately after a blow to the head. A commercial kit-very similar to the one used by the authors-is available to test for protein levels in the blood, but it has not been approved by the FDA to diagnose or predict an individual’s risk of brain damage.
Before such a test can be used for individual patients with Alzheimer’s or any other neurodegenerative condition, researchers will need to determine how much protein in the blood is too much, and how quickly protein levels can rise before it becomes a cause for concern.
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