Friday 28 October 2016

New test reveals risk of Alzheimer’s disease in just three hours

Sarah Knapton

Published 13/08/2016 | 07:34

People with the APOE4 gene are up to 12 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease
People with the APOE4 gene are up to 12 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease
The biochip developed by Randox Laboratories

A cheap blood test which can identify people who are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in just three hours, has been developed by scientists.

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People carrying the APOE4 genetic mutation are up to 12 times more likely to develop dementia in later life, making them ideal candidates for early intervention to prevent the disease.

The biochip developed by Randox Laboratories
The biochip developed by Randox Laboratories

However current DNA testing is expensive and can take days for results to come back.

The new €30 test, developed by London-based biotech company Randox Laboaratories uses a biochip – a type of ‘lab on a chip’ – to quickly analyse genetic material in the blood and look for mutant genes.

Tests have shown that it is 100 per cent accurate, meaning there is no chance of a false positive, or the chip missing a high-risk patient. 

The biochip is likely to be used for research purposes in the first instance but could later become part of widespread screening for Alzheimer’s disease. The company said several major healthcare providers had already expressed interest.

Dr Emma Harte, a research and development scientists at Randox Laboratories, said: “This type of testing is important in our quest to understand and diagnose Alzheimer's and empower patients to understand risks, consider medication, and even make early lifestyle changes.

"Pairing this test with medical and family history for risk of Alzheimer's disease has the real potential to advance personalised medicine.

“This fast, accurate testing will allow doctors and patients to make more informed choices earlier to potentially slow the possible progress of Alzheimer's."

Drugs which halt the development of Alzheimer’s are currently undergoing clinical trials and are likely to be available within a decade.

Until then, people who are at risk of dementia are generally encouraged to exercise more, give up smoking, keep their brain sharp with puzzles and eat healthily to lower their chance of disease.

Currently screening for the Alzheimer’s mutation involves complex molecular testing which has to take place in a specialists labs. In those tests the DNA has to be extracted from the blood and then there is significant waiting time involved in the Polymerase Chain Reaction. The Randox biochip simply analyses protein in the blood – one process rather than several.

Dr Maria Zellner, from the Institute of Physiology at the Medical University of Vienna, which confirmed the accuracy of the test said: “The test is a real breakthrough in the area of Alzheimer’s research. 

“Early Alzheimer’s diagnosis is fundamental for the patient and their loved ones to actively manage the disease, and to enable clinical intervention.

“It is also critical to the development of new pharmaceutical treatments for Alzheimer’s disease which are more likely to be beneficial if the disease is identified at a very early stage.”

Dementia charities also said the test would be useful for recruiting large numbers of people for studies which could speed up finding a cure for the disease.

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As a person’s APOE status can influence their Alzheimer’s risk, knowing it can help identify people to recruit to certain research studies and provide useful information for researchers studying the disease in large numbers of people.”

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, added : We already have accurate ways to test for the Alzheimer’s disease risk gene APOE4 but these are often costly and take time – this  new technique can give results in just three hours.

“Knowing whether a person has the APOE4 gene is becoming increasingly important for dementia research studies so this new tool has the potential to speed up the search for suitable research participants.”

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