Scientists have developed a new blood test that could help diagnose and even predict Alzheimer’s disease in the latest research offering an alternative to the invasive and expensive procedures currently used to detect the condition.
The team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have devised a blood test to measure a patient’s level of tau, a key protein that accumulates in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.
Such a procedure would be considerably cheaper and simpler than the costly brain scans and cerebrospinal fluid tests that doctors presently rely on to make a diagnosis.
“A blood test for Alzheimer’s disease could be administered easily and repeatedly, with patients going to their primary care office rather than having to go into a hospital,” said Dominic Walsh, a researcher at the Brigham’s Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases and one of the authors of the recent research published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
“Ultimately, a blood-based test could replace cerebrospinal fluid testing and/or brain imaging. Our new test has the potential to do just that,” he added.
The research team created tests that could detect different populations of tau fragments in both blood and cerebrospinal fluid. They then applied the tests to patients from two different demographic backgrounds — participants recruited to the Harvard Aging Brain Study and those seen at the Institute of Neurology in London. Through their experiments they found that one type of tau, known as NT1, was effective in predicting and finding Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our test will need further validation in many more people, but if it performs as in the initial two cohorts, it would be a transformative breakthrough,” said Walsh.
The authors of the study have noted that the number of participants in their research was small and hope that other researchers will build on their work.
“We’ve made our data and the tools needed to perform our test widely available because we want other research groups to put this to test,” Walsh said. “It’s important for others to validate our findings so that we can be certain this test will work across different populations.”
Earlier this year scientists in Japan and Australia developed a blood test to measure a patient’s level of beta-amyloid, the other toxic protein implicated in Alzheimer’s, again with the aim that it could provide a much simpler way to diagnose the disease.