Early Detection

A new blood test has been found to be able to detect buildups of beta-amyloid in the brain, the cause of the plaques that characterize the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the role that these clumps of beta-amyloid play in the brains of Alzheimer's patients is unknown, monitoring their presence has been a reliable way to watch for the disease. Unfortunately, watching for the build-up of these plaques in the brain has only been possible through PET-scans, which are expensive and not widely available, or with spinal tap procedures, which are invasive and can only be administered by a, relatively, select few practitioners.

In this new study, researchers have developed a simple blood test to screen for Alzheimer’s risk that anyone from general practitioners to nurses in clinics could use. This simple to administer screening would be able to identify thousands of at-risk patients, allowing them to start treatment before brain damage and irreversible memory loss occurs. In fact, with this kind of basic screening tool, monitoring for Alzheimer's disease could be as widespread and quick as checking your cholesterol and blood sugar.

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This test was developed to measure relative amounts of different types of beta-amyloids, since the researchers were able to determine, using PET scans, that ratios of beta-amyloid varieties in the blood correspond with how much beta-amyloid has aggregated in the brain. This development is critically important, since the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease could rise from 5 to 16 million by 2050.

Preventing Alzheimer's Disease

Although there is not yet any silver bullet treatment for Alzheimer's disease, there are promising treatments on the horizon — some that reverse symptoms, and others that slow the progression of the disease. However, the most important way to fight Alzheimer's right now is through prevention. As scientists study why some brains resist the disease more than others and how we might prevent the disease entirely, evidence shows that lifestyle interventions including healthy diet and exercise can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 30 percent. Earlier detection with a blood test would make lifestyle interventions more effective.

Beta-amyloid plaques begin to accumulate 15 to 20 years before a person exhibits the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Positive test results wouldn’t guarantee that a patient would develop the disease, but they would signal possible risk while suggesting a need for lifestyle changes.

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