Researchers from Japan and Australia have developed simple test for Alzheimer’s disease which requires only a few drops of blood.
The test measures a specific peptide in the blood to inform doctors if a patient has early stage Alzheimer’s disease. It is said to be 90% accurate.
However, further studies are needed before the test is released for general use by medical practitioners.
One of the essential hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is a buildup of abnormal peptide in the brain, called beta-amyloid.
The process starts about 30 years before signs of dementia, such memory loss or cognitive decline.
In Australia, there are about 425,416 people living with dementia. It is the second leading cause of death of Australians and in 2018 is estimated to cost Australia more than $15 billion. About 250 people are joining the population with dementia each day.
Current tests for beta-amyloid include brain scans with costly radioactive tracers, or analysing spinal fluid taken via a lumbar puncture. These are expensive and invasive, and generally only available in a research setting.
A diagnosis is usually made without these tools, by assessing a patient’s range of symptoms.
In this latest study, results of which are published in the journal NatureBlood, samples from patientsfrom the Japanese National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG) were initially analysed to identify the relevant peptides.
Dr Koichi Tanaka, the winner of the 2002 Nobel prize in Chemistry, was instrumental in developing the initial blood testing.
Professor Katsuhiko Yanagisawa, Director-general of Research Institute at the National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology, says: “Our study demonstrates the high accuracy, reliability and reproducibility of this blood test, as it was successfully validated in two independent large datasets from Japan and Australia.”
Co-leader in the latest research, Colin Masters of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, says the test has the potential to disrupt the expensive and invasive scanning and spinal fluid technologies.
“In the first instance, however, it will be an invaluable tool in increasing the speed of screening potential patients for new drug trials,” says Professor Masters.
“Progress in developing new therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s disease has been disappointingly slow. None of the three drugs currently on the market treat the underlying disease. New drugs are urgently required, and the only way to do that is to speed up whole process.”
The breakthrough was the result of international collaboration between industry and academics in both Japan and Australia.
The key technology, known as IP-MS, was implemented by Shimadzu Corporation in Japan.
The University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Kindai University, and Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology all contributed to the work.
In Australia, the study upon which the test was validated, is a partnership between the Florey Institute, The University of Melbourne, CSIRO, Edith Cowan University, and Austin Health.
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