DEMENTIA can be caused by many diseases – but Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common reasons people develop symptoms. The disease can be hard to diagnose but now experts have found a non invasive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s
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In the largest and most conclusive study of its kind, researchers have analysed blood samples to create a novel and non-invasive way of helping to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts have also found a way of distinguishing between different types of neurodegenerative disorders.
Following this breakthrough discovery, Alzheimer’s sufferers may now have an additional test to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, which could help tailor treatment.
The research also offers a valuable opportunity to monitor the disease.
Professor Francis Martin, principal investigator of the study and Biosciences theme lead at UCLan.
“For those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, the damage is already well advanced once conventionally diagnosed, but this new method offers a potentially effective early screening tool when patients are only demonstrating signs of mild cognitive impairment,” he said.
“This is a potentially significant breakthrough for the prevention of different debilitating and chronic neurological diseases.”
Researchers used sensor-based technology with a diamond core to analyse approximately 550 blood samples.
By passing light through the diamond and observing its interactions with the blood plasma, researchers were able to identify specific chemical bonds within the blood.
This biochemical data was then used to assess whether the samples were normal or contained any trace of a neurodegenerative disease, and if so, which kind.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DEMENTIA?
The groundbreaking scientific investigation was carried out by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in collaboration with the University of Manchester, Lancaster University and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.
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Alzheimer’s diagnosis currently involves careful medical evaluation including a series of brain scans, physical examinations and memory testing.
Currently, the only conclusive diagnosis is determined by post-mortem examination.
This new blood test offers a non-invasive, more accurate and relatively cost-effective method of diagnosis, which will ensure the correct management of the condition.
Professor Martin said: “We have an ageing population, meaning that the incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s is increasing, as is the need for accurate diagnosis.
“The ability to identify different neurodegenerative diseases through the analysis of blood offers a faster and accurate way of establishing the most effective treatment plan as well as disease monitoring.”
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This new approach could also offer potential for carrying out tests to identify and monitor early signs of mild cognitive impairment.
This means the onset of Alzheimer’s and other types of neurodegenerative diseases could be detected early and intervention measures could be put in place earlier to slow the progress of these diseases.
Professor David Allsop, professor of neuroscience at Lancaster University, said: “A particularly exciting aspect of the study was the ability to distinguish accurately between Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which are conditions that both result in dementia and can be difficult to separate from each other based on clinical information and symptoms.
“By reduction of misdiagnosed cases and administration of appropriate treatment, many people could benefit from this type of blood test in the future.”
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
CAN DEMENTIA BE PREVENTED?
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said current methods of diagnosing dementia can be slow and expensive and said a ‘cheap, quick test’ which can accurately identify if someone has dementia is a top priority.
He added: “Blood tests are being widely investigated as a potential way to identify people with dementia, although there is still some way to go to find a test that can detect the condition with enough accuracy.
“Along with detecting dementia early, this approach has the potential to differentiate between different types of dementia, though the accuracy is not yet high enough and would currently lead to mis-diagnoses. More development is needed to improve the accuracy before the test could reach the clinic, and to ensure these results can be reproduced and replicated
“Blood tests are just one avenue we’re exploring to identify dementia in people earlier. Alzheimer’s Society is also funding studies that identify a wide range of biological signals through cerebrospinal fluid, brain scans and saliva to better detect who is at risk of developing dementia.”