Blood test to help prevent Alzheimer's is developed
A blood test to predict if someone will develop Alzheimer's within a year has been created, in a breakthrough that raises hopes the disease could become preventable.
After a decade of research, scientists at Oxford University and King's College London are confident they have found 10 proteins that show the disease is imminent.
Clinical trials will start on people who have not yet developed Alzheimer's to find out which drugs halt its onset. The blood test, which could be available in as little as two years, was described as a "major step forward" by charities.
"Although we are making drugs they are all failing. But if we could treat people earlier it may be that the drugs are effective," said Simon Lovestone, professor of translational neuroscience at Oxford.
"Alzheimer's begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease. If we could treat the disease in that phase we would have a preventative strategy."
Clinical trials into so-called "wonder drugs", such as BACE inhibitors and anti-amyloid agents, have shown little improvement for sufferers, and scientists believe that, by the time Alzheimer's is diagnosed, an irreversible "cascade" of symptoms has already occurred.
In Ireland there are around 48,000 people living with Alzheimers or some form of dementia. Most people living with dementia are cared for by a family member and there are about 50,000 dementia family carers in Ireland.
The new test, which examines 10 proteins in the blood, can predict with 87pc accuracy whether someone suffering from memory problems will develop Alzheimer's within a year.
The researchers used data from three international studies. Blood samples were taken from 1,148 people, 476 of whom had Alzheimer's, 220 with memory problems, and a control group of 452 without any signs of dementia. The scientists found that 16 proteins were associated with brain shrinkage and memory loss and 10 of those could predict whether someone would develop Alzheimer's.
Prof Lovestone said: "This is welcome research on an issue we've made a national priority. Developing tests and biomarkers will be important steps forward in the fight against dementia."