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Is a Predictive Alzheimer’s Test on the Horizon?

Is a Predictive Alzheimer’s Test on the Horizon?

How would a simple blood test that could predict your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease change your life? A new Alzheimer’s test may soon be available. This test is predictive rather than diagnostic, and it’s targeted at healthy seniors over the age of 70. Still in its experimental stages, the test is heading to clinical trials, and early indications point to its availability within a couple years.

Alzheimer’s Test Study

Dr. Howard Federoff, a neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center, and his team conducted a study on a small sample of 525 seniors over a five-year period to determine if they could predict Alzheimer’s disease in healthy seniors using a blood test. Nature Medicine recently published the results.

Rather than diagnose the disease in seniors who are already afflicted, this simple Alzheimer’s test predicts the chances that a senior will develop the disease within two to three years. Federoff explained to NPR Radio that the goal of the study was to find a difference in the blood between people who develop Alzheimer’s and people who don’t.

Study Results

The team studied 4,000 biomarkers in each subject’s blood drawn every year for five years. According to Senior Journal, “They further studied the blood results of 53 with mild cognitive impairment — or [Alzheimer's disease] — including 18 who developed disease symptoms during the testing, and another 53 who remained cognitively healthy.” The team further validated the results in 41 additional participants. The study produced a greater than 90 percent accuracy rate in the small test group.

Out of 4,000 potential biomarkers, the scientists isolated 10 blood lipids (fats) with the potential to predict Alzheimer’s disease. But with such a small sample, the results are highly suggestive, not conclusive. Federoff told NPR that — while these results need to be confirmed by an independent lab and that this method “still needs to be tried in people of different ages and from different racial groups” — the results of the study imply that “in the not-too-distant future, many more people will know their risk of Alzheimer’s.”

Federoff says this Alzheimer’s test is better than today’s predictive tests: a spinal tap (painful) and an MRI (claustrophobic, expensive, and inconvenient). The simplicity of the new Alzheimer’s test would make it available to a much larger pool of willing seniors.

Professor Simon Lovestone, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK, believes doctors need biomarkers to identify the disease in people before symptoms occur to help find therapies that can prevent Alzheimer’s before it appears.

Federoff says that there are 4.5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and around 35 million worldwide. By mid-century, it is predicted that 100 million worldwide could have the disease. If this Alzheimer’s test becomes available, it would be another “game changer” for seniors. It would allow them to plan their future care options before they experience any cognitive impairment instead of placing their fate in the hands of a loved one or a complete stranger. Other seniors might not want to know and would be happy to just let nature take its course. Either way, a predictive test would give aging seniors more options for taking care of their health.

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