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New Test Could Predict Whether Memory Problems Will Become Alzheimer's

Brain stroke

A blood test that can predict whether someone with memory problems will develop Alzheimer's disease may be available in as little as two years, British researchers announced today.

By analyzing more than 1,000 patients - and performing MRI brain scans on 467 - researchers at King's College in London discovered a combination of 10 proteins that seem to predict with 87 percent accuracy whether people with mild cognitive impairment will develop full-blown Alzheimer's within a year. Because the research,  which was published in the journal  Alzheimer's & Dementia , is a private-public venture between King's College and British biotech company Proteome Sciences, the test could be commercially available soon.

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Alzheimer's begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed, but drug trials have often failed because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely damaged, said Simon Lovestone, senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Oxford. "A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease," Lovestone said in a statement.

Unlike a blood test discovered this year that seems to predict whether people without symptoms will develop dementia, this new test predicts whether people who already have memory problems will go on to develop Alzheimer's. About 10 percent of those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia within a year. Most of those will develop Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

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"This exciting finding seems to highlight the importance of several of these proteins that were suspected to play a role in early Alzheimer's disease," said Mark Mapstone, associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "It also adds additional evidence supporting the use of blood-based biomarkers for detecting early Alzheimer's disease." Mapstone was the lead author on the Nature Medicine paper announcing the first blood test. He said both tests will be invaluable for research but acknowledges that deciding whether to have the test could be hard.

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While praising the research and potential benefits of early detection, Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, sounded a note of caution. "Both of these studies are excellent steps forward in getting closer to a blood test for Alzheimer's disease, but you really have to be careful," he said. "If there is going to be a blood test for the disease in a few years, that's wonderful, but that's not going to be based on a single study or two."

Photo: wildpixel/iStock

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