August 10, 2011

A New Test for Diagnosing Alzheimer's Before Symptoms Appear?

Scientists may be one step closer to providing a simple, reliable, test for Alzheimer’s Disease years before symptoms – like memory loss – appear.
Doctors have commonly used a variety of procedures in their attempts to diagnose AD, including behavior evaluations, psychiatric tests, and brain imaging. None of those procedures have proved accurate, and many have been costly.

Now, according to Dr. Robert Nagele, a professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine (and founder of the company developing this test), all doctors will need to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s is a single drop of blood.

Brain cells begin deteriorating up to ten years before symptoms present in people with AD. When those cells break down, part of that cellular material spills back into the bloodstream.

As Nagele explained during a recent interview with WebMD, "Your body makes antibodies against the cell debris," he says. "We believe that happens so it can facilitate the cleanup of the cell debris."

It’s the presence of those antibodies in the blood that hold the key to early AD diagnosis, he believes.

The study included this intriguing element, as related in the online journal of peer-reviewed science, PLoS ONE:

We next sought to determine if it is possible to differentiate between two closely related neurodegenerative diseases. For this, we selected Parkinson's disease (PD) because it shares much in common with Alzheimer's pathology.... We determined that by using only five diagnostic biomarkers, it was possible to differentiate AD samples from PD samples with over 86% accuracy…. To our knowledge, this is the highest efficiency ever achieved with blood biomarkers to distinguish these closely related neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr. Heather Snyder, a spokesperson for the Alzheimer's Association, said that this particular test was just one of several currently under study. "Many labs are looking at this. They are all in the very preliminary, very early stages. We all know we need an accurate, relatively noninvasive way to diagnose Alzheimer's." She added that Nagele’s research is preliminary. “It’s a small study and a small sample,” she said.

Nagele acknowledged that there is still no definitive protocol for detecting AD before its symptoms appear. Still, he hopes the test will become available soon. In his interview with WebMD, he said the test would cost about $200.

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