New test could provide early warning of Alzheimer’s

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Finding out if you’re at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease could now be as simple as taking a blood test.

There’s a protein called beta-amyloid that’s believed to be a cause of the progressive dementia characterizing Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is another protein, called phosphorylated tau 217 (or p-tau217, for short), that increases in the body at the same time. That other protein can be discovered through a blood test rather than a PET scan.

This discovery means those who are identified as at risk of developing Alzheimer’s could begin preventative treatment. Dr. Nicholas Ashton, Senior Director of the Banner Research Biomarker Program, joined Arizona Horizon to tell us more.

Dr. Ashton explained that it can detect early stages of Alzheimer’s outside the brain, which is crucial for early intervention. Unlike brain scans or spinal taps, which are limited in accessibility, this blood test can be administered at local clinics, making it inclusive and widely available.

The development of this blood test has been in progress for over a decade, with significant advancements made in the past three to four years. The test’s accuracy has been validated through a study involving around 100 individuals who received a gold-standard diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The blood test showed 96% accuracy compared to brain scans, even in individuals without symptoms but with amyloid pathology.

When asked about the possibility of individuals without symptoms getting tested for peace of mind, Dr. Ashton advised caution, emphasizing the need for clinical guidance. While the blood test can indicate a high risk of Alzheimer’s, it’s not definitive without symptoms.

Looking ahead, Dr. Ashton outlined plans to establish a large biomarker lab in Arizona to conduct blood testing for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The focus will be on developing tests for different types of dementia beyond Alzheimer’s, where diagnostic tools are currently lacking.

Dr. Nicholas Ashton, Senior Director of the Banner Research Biomarker Program

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