LOS ANGELES — A new study provides the first evidence that a simple blood test could be developed to confirm the presence of beta amyloid proteins in the brain, which could help in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
No reliable blood-based test currently exists for the neurodegenerative disorder that is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the report in the journal Neurology.1
The study team, which was led by UCLA researchers and included participation from the Los Angeles and San Francisco VAMCs, notes that use of blood-based biomarkers — a signature of proteins in the blood that indicate the presence of a disease — to diagnose Alzheimer’s would be a meaningful step forward.
“Blood-based biomarkers would have the important advantage of being safe, affordable and easy to administer in large groups or in rural areas, and therefore could have an enormous impact on clinical care and clinical trials alike,” said lead author Liana G. Apostolova, MD, director of the neuroimaging laboratory at the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed definitively only by post-mortem examination of brain tissue. For living patients, physicians must rely on biomarkers as well as cognitive symptoms such as memory loss.
For the study, the research team looked at the build-up of amyloid in the brain, including several blood proteins known to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, along with information generally derived from clinical work-up of patients suspected to have the disease, including of memory testing and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Blood samples and other data from patients with mild cognitive impairment from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative also were reviewed.
The method was found to be predictive of amyloid in the brain with modest accuracy.
“Our study suggests that blood protein panels can be used to establish the presence of Alzheimer’s-type pathology of the brain in a safe and minimally invasive manner,” Apostolova said. “We need to further refine and improve on the power of this signature by introducing new disease-related metrics, but this indicates that such a test is feasible and could be on the market before long.”
A blood test also would help avoid misdiagnosis, she added.
“With the advent of the amyloid PET scan, we are learning that as many as 25-30 percent of subjects who enroll in Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials turn out not to have the disease,” Apostolova said. “That makes it difficult to measure the effects of the treatment being tested.”
1Apostolova LG, Hwang KS, Avila D, Elashoff D, Kohannim O, Teng E, Sokolow S, Jack CR, Jagust WJ, Shaw L, Trojanowski JQ, Weiner MW, Thompson PM; Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Brain amyloidosis ascertainment from cognitive imaging, and peripheral blood protein measures. Neurology. 2015 Feb17;84(7):729-37. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001231. Epub 2015 Jan 21. PubMed PMID: 25609767; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4336101.
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