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Right Under Your Nose: Diagnosing Alzheimer’s in a Sneeze?

By | August 14th, 2020

A research team in the Republic of Korea has made a discovery that could lead to a simple new method for diagnosing Alzheimer’s: Testing your snot.

The world is facing increasing numbers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, some treatments can help delay its onset, making timely diagnosis critical to preserve quality of life.

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, scientists from Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, Korea, discuss a novel method for diagnosing Alzheimer’s that involves simply collecting and analyzing nasal discharge samples.

“In 2017, we found that olfactory dysfunction occurred in the early stages of AD in mice and suggested that the cause of the symptoms was induced by soluble species of amyloid-β oligomer accumulations in the peripheral olfactory system,” study lead author and professor Cheil Moon said in a news release. “We hypothesized that soluble Aβ oligomers could be detectable in nasal discharge and that they may be a useful parameter to monitor disease progression.”

Like the identification of drug targets and the development of treatments, the development of new technologies for diagnosis that are affordable, accessible and accurate has also been a slow process. While methods relying on blood tests, retinal scans and AI are underway, they are still years from being brought to market, while existing methods of diagnosis are expensive and rely on highly-specialized equipment or procedures to which not all patients have access. Moon adds that the new research could yield a diagnostic method that solves for these drawbacks.

“Routine nasal discharge screenings would be a better option to screen for AD because of its various advantages, such as its relatively low cost and non-invasive nature,” Moon said. “The results of our study introduce a novel and simple approach to assess AD progression.”

To test this theory, Moon and team collected and analyzed nasal discharge samples from 39 study participants with Alzheimer’s and 21 participants from an age-matched control group, finding that the levels of two particular amyloid-beta oligomers were consistently higher in patients from the group with Alzheimer’s.

Further, they found that the proteins could be used not only to distinguish between the group with Alzheimer’s and without, but to predict the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s over a three-year period.

The team says that further research is needed to understand the link between the presence of amyloid-beta oligomers in nasal discharge and the symptoms of the disease.

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