Researchers question reliability of Alzheimer’s blood test

Scientists are getting closer to developing a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease, but how reliable is it really?

Alzheimer’s disease is particularly difficult to detect, and most people don’t receive a diagnosis until it has already begun to damage the neurons in the brain. According to a press release from Eurekalert, however, doctors at the Rowan University of Osteopathic Medicine have made considerable strides in developing a blood test that would signal for the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Robert Nagele, the test uses autoantibioties as biomarkers in the blood to signal the presence of a long list of diseases and even reveal which stage the disease has reached in its progression. Alzheimer’s disease begins affecting the brain long before most symptoms emerge, making timely treatment extremely difficult.

By recognizing the early biomarkers of the development of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Nagele hopes that physicians can recommend lifestyle changes that could slow the progression of the disease and improve the patient’s quality of life.

‘There are significant benefits to early disease detection because we now know that many of the same conditions that lead to vascular disease are also significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s,” Nagele said. “People found to have preclinical disease can take steps to improve their vascular health, including watching their diet, exercising and managing any weight and blood pressure issues to help stave off or slow disease progression.”

It is still unclear what exactly causes Alzheimer’s disease, but doctors are confident that a healthy balance between the brain and the blood can prevent the development of the disease significantly. Risk factors to this blood-brain barrier include diabetes, high LDL cholesterol, hypertension, stroke, and being overweight.

Blood vessels in the brain are fragile, and as they become weak and brittle with time, they can start to seep blood-borne chemicals into the tissues of the brain that can have a degrading effect on neurons and synapses.

Autoantibodies can bind to neurons and speed up the buildup of beta amyloid deposits, which are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. By developing a way to detect the buildup of these chemicals, Dr. Nagele and his colleagues hope that a new, dependable method for detecting Alzheimer’s in the early stages will emerge.

The new blood test can help detect other diseases, too. It can show early signs of Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and breast cancer. Autoantibodies are underutilized in the medical diagnostics field, and could open up a whole new paradigm of testing for all sorts of diseases.

Autoantibodies are present in the blood of all humans, and bind to cellular debris that is discarded by organs and tissues throughout the body. The mix of autoantibodies in the blood varies by age, gender, and the presence of certain pathogens within the body. Diseases can change the makeup of autoantibodies in the blood, and can often be the first sign that a serious illness could be developing.

The brain changes long before Alzheimer’s symptoms become visible. Detecting the mix of autoantibodies at the onset of the disease could help medical professionals make better-informed decisions about their patients and hopefully prevent the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

According to Jennifer Caudle, an assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University, “As osteopathic physicians, we constantly tell patients that a healthy lifestyle is the best medicine for preventing disease. We also know that many people tune out messages about nutrition and exercise until a health crisis gets their attention. I can’t think of a single patient who wouldn’t take steps to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s if they could directly affect their prognosis.”

Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.3 million Americans, and is one of the top 10 causes of death in the country.

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