Science

Health: A new tool can accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer's within the next four years


A new tool can accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer’s within four years of someone developing the disease

  • The new approach was developed by experts from Sweden’s Lund University 
  • It involves just a simple blood test and a ten-minute set of cognitive tests
  • In a study involving 883 participants, it proved accurate 90 per cent of the time 
  • This was more successful than clinical assessments conducted by specialists
  • Unlike other diagnostic methods, it is quick and does not require expensive tech 

A new tool — using just a blood test and a quick set of cognitive tests — can predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s in four years with 90 per cent accuracy.

Developed by experts from Sweden‘s Lund University, the approach has the potential to speed up diagnoses while removing the need for costly, specialist equipment.

At present, some 20–30 per cent of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are misdiagnosed in specialist care alone, let alone primary care, the team noted.

A new tool ¿ using just a blood test (pictured) and a quick set of cognitive tests ¿ can predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer's in four years with 90 per cent accuracy

A new tool — using just a blood test (pictured) and a quick set of cognitive tests — can predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s in four years with 90 per cent accuracy

‘Our algorithm is based on a blood analysis of phosphylated rope and a risk gene for Alzheimer’s, as well as testing of memory and executive ability,’ said neurologist Sebastian Palmqvist of Lund University and the Skåne University Hospital.

‘We have developed an online tool to calculate the risk at the individual level that a person with mild memory difficulties will develop Alzheimer’s within four years.’

In their study, Professor Palmqvist and colleagues examined 340 people with mild memory difficulties who had been recruited into the Swedish BioFINDER Study into neurodegenerative diseases and 543 people from North America.

The team found that their combination of relatively simple tests — a blood exam and three cognitive tests that only take 10 minutes to complete — could predict if an individual will develop Alzheimer’s in the next four years with 90 per cent accuracy.

The blood tests, the team explained, measure for both and Alzheimer’s risk gene and a variant of the tau protein which is associated with the disease. 

According to the researchers, the prognostic algorithm even managed to outperform the clinical assessments if specialist doctors who met with the patients during the course of the study. 

One major advantage of the new test programme is that it can be performed in those clinics that do not have access to the specialised equipment.

The present top-rated diagnostic methods for evaluating Alzheimer’s involve spinal fluid testing or examination with a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) camera — both of which are expensive to perform and only available in select clinics. 

‘At present, the algorithm has been tested on patients who have been examined at memory clinics,’ commented Professor Palmqvist.

‘Our hope is that it can also be validated and used in primary care and also make a difference in developing countries where the resources for specialized healthcare are more limited.’

The researchers also noted that their diagnostic tool has the potential to help with the development of new drug-based therapies, by identifying the right people to take part in clinical trials.

‘When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, it is difficult to recruit the right people for drug trials in a feasible and cost-effective way,’ explained paper author and neurologist Oskar Hansson, also of Lund University.

‘The algorithm makes it possible to recruit people with Alzheimer’s already at an early stage of their disease.’

‘New drugs have a better chance of slowing down the development of the disease.’ 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Medicine

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink. 

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.

WHAT HAPPENS?

As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost. 

That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason. 

The progress of the disease is slow and gradual. 

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.

EARLY SYMPTOMS:

  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call 

LATER SYMPTOMS:

  • Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior 
  • Eventually lose ability to walk
  • May have problems eating 
  • The majority will eventually need 24-hour care   

 Source: Alzheimer’s Association



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