Researchers are developing a blood test that can reliably detect Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers are developing a blood test that can reliably detect Alzheimer’s disease

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When doctors need to confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they often turn to a combination of brain imaging and cellular analysis. Both have their downsides. The latter involves a lumbar puncture, an invasive and painful procedure that is more commonly known as a spinal tap. The doctor will insert a needle into the lower back to extract a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid. A lab technician then tests the sample for signs of progressive nerve cell loss and excessive accumulation of amyloid and tau protein. MRI scans are less invasive, but often expensive and accessibility an issue; not every community has access to the technology.

The next best tool for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is a blood test. Although some can detect abnormal numbers of tau proteins, they are less effective at spotting the telltale signs of neurodegeneration. But that could soon change. This week in the diary , a multinational team composed of researchers from Sweden, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, recently developed a new antibody-based blood test. The new test can detect brain-derived tau proteins that are specific to Alzheimer’s disease. After studying 600 patients, the team found that their test could reliably distinguish the disease from other neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Thomas Caricari, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the study’s co-authors, he hopes the breakthrough can help other researchers design better clinical trials for Alzheimer’s treatments. “The blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer and can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and selecting participants for clinical trials and monitoring the disease,” he said. There is still work to be done before the test reaches the local hospital. For starters, the team needs to confirm that it works for a wide variety of patients, including those who come from different ethnic backgrounds.

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