US and German Researchers have Developed a Blood Test to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease as Early as a Decade

A new blood test which tracks the level of neurofilament light chain, a protein in the blood may be adopted for the detection of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases a decade before first symptoms occur. The blood test developed as part of research study by collaboration of researchers from German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, USA.

When neurons are damaged or dying, a structural protein, neurofilament light chain is leaked into the cerebrospinal fluid which later releases into the blood through the blood brain barrier. Researchers used this protein for developing blood test for early detection of Neurodegenerative disorder.

To detect the damage to the neurons in the brain, rise in the levels of neurofilament light chain protein in the cerebrospinal fluids is checked. Although this is an established procedure, patients are often reluctant to undergo spinal tap which is required to extract the fluid from the CNS.

The researchers wanted to overcome this challenge by investigating the possible link between neurological damage and protein levels in the blood. The study was conducted on 400 participants from Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network or DIAN. The participants of the study include 247 carrying early-onset genetic variant and 162 with unaffected relatives.

The protein levels were high at baseline and showed a rise over time in people with the faulty genetic variant while in people with healthy gene variant it remained largely same from already lower baseline levels. The researchers said that the significant achievement lies in the fact that the difference in the level of neurofilament light chain protein was detectable by the blood test 16 years before the first symptoms of the disease occurred. The researchers are optimistic about the use of the protein as a primary biomarker for early stage detection of neurodegenerative diseases.

It was observed that patients whose blood tests reported a rise in blood protein levels were most likely to develop symptoms of diminished cognitive abilities and brain atrophy. Additional research still has to be conducted before the adoption of the blood test methodology for clinical scale prediction. But the new test has shown hope for early detection of certain neurodegenerative diseases including multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that around 5.7 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and it expects that the figure could rise up to 14 million by 2050. 

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