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Blood test could spot people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Test could result in more people being screened

Researchers have claimed they can accurately identify people on track to develop Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear.

US scientists used levels of a protein in the blood to help predict its build-up in the brain.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 520,000 people in the UK.

There are currently no treatments to halt the disease.

Up to 20 years before people develop memory loss and confusion, which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s, damaging clumps of protein start to build up in their brains. Costly, time-consuming positron emission tomography (Pet) brain scans are currently the only way to test for this.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine, in St Louis, Missouri, writing in Neurology, measured levels of one protein, called amyloid beta, in the blood of 158 adults aged over 50 to see if this matched levels found in brain scans. It matched 88% of the time, which is not accurate enough for a diagnostic test.

When the researchers combined this information with two other risk factors for the disease – an age of over 65 and people with a genetic variant called APOE4, which at least triples the risk of the disease – the accuracy of the blood test improved to 94%.

Senior study author Randall J Bateman, professor of neurology, said this could help screen many more people than expensive brain scans.

“That means we can more efficiently enrol participants in clinical trials, which will help us find treatments faster, and could have an enormous impact on the cost of the disease as well as the human suffering that goes with it,” he said.

Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, told BBC News the test will speed up dementia research by identifying those at risk of Alzheimer’s who might be suitable for clinical trials aimed at preventing or delaying the development of dementia.

“In the meantime, we’re eagerly awaiting the results of larger studies to validate this blood test,” he added.