Irish team's discovery offers new Alzheimer's therapy hope
The first blood test that can diagnose Alzheimer's disease in its early stages, and predict how the illness will progress has been discovered by Irish scientists.
The breakthrough by a team at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) has the potential to allow people who develop the disease to benefit from treatments to manage symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life for longer.
The test picks up changes in levels of a small molecule which is present in higher volumes in people who are developing the disease.
Lead researcher Dr Tobias Engel, a lecturer in physiology at the RCSI, said: "People are living longer today and because of this the incidence of age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer's will rise.
"Research into the condition is largely focused on the development of new therapies, however, new therapies need diagnostic methods which are affordable and minimally invasive and can be used to screen large populations.
"Our research carried out over the past four years has identified changes in blood levels of a small molecule called microRNA, which is able to diagnose Alzheimer's disease at a very early stage and is able to distinguish Alzheimer's from brain diseases with similar symptoms."
Dr Engel said it has already been tested on patients in Ireland - and the next step is to extend the trial to a greater number of people.
The multi-centre study was carried out by academics and clinicians from Ireland and Spain.
The findings will be presented today at the RCSI's annual research day by Aidan Kenny, a PhD student at the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics.
It could become commercially available in about five years.
Around 20,000-25,000 people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in Ireland, but the incidence is set to grow as the population increases.
Dr Engel said no new therapy for Alzheimer's has passed clinical trials in 20 years. Much of the failure has been linked to therapies being applied to the patient at advanced stages of Alzheimer's, where damage to the brain becomes irreversible.
"For treatments to be successful, the early stages preceding the full onset of Alzheimer's need to be targeted.
"At present there is no blood test available to clinicians that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease."
There's currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, although medication is available that can temporarily reduce some symptoms or slow down the progression of the condition in some people.
If a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease early it allows them to put a care plan in place and make plans for their future.
Other research by RCSI scientists will reveal a potential new way to diagnose disease in a patient's breath.
This is the first time that a "liquid biopsy" has been found to consistently and reliably detect a particular type of lung cancer from a patient's breath.