An exciting discovery by Brain Research New Zealand researchers could pave the way for Alzheimer’s to be diagnosed by a simple blood test.
The discovery was made as part of a $4.6 million Health Research Council of New Zealand programme grant, directed by Prof Cliff Abraham, looking into markers and therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 50,000 New Zealanders are currently affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and as our population ages the number is growing.
“The team’s ultimate goal” Professor Abraham said, “was to develop a blood test that could spot the disease early, before people showed any clinical signs.” For the moment, they’re seeing whether the test can accurately identify people who have already been diagnosed. Once they pass this step they can start looking further, toward people who haven’t started showing symptoms yet.
The researchers hope to do this by examining molecules in the blood called microRNA. They have found that several microRNA are altered in people with Alzheimer’s disease and that three in particular, when analysed together with a specific genetic marker, could accurately identify Alzheimer’s disease 86% of the time. The marker molecules, which are naturally found both in the human brain and blood, were “exceptionally good” at detecting Alzheimer’s, the researchers said.
Further research is needed to confirm and further clarify aspects of the earlier testing work, and, if the results can be confirmed and further clarified, it is understood that a blood test could become available about five years after that. This kind of test opens up the possibility of finding treatments to halt or reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and being able to do that early enough that an individual doesn’t have to go through the experience of having Alzheimer’s disease.
It is still early days, but the researchers are optimistic that sometime soon we’ll have an early-warning test for this life altering disease.