Promising research could lead to blood diagnosis test for Alzheimer's disease

New, promising research on Alzheimer’s disease could open up the possibility in the future for a blood diagnosis test for the disease.

The research was discussed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

“It is very exciting,” said Dr. Michael Rosenbloom, director of HealthPartners Center for Memory and Aging. “When we go to these conferences and you hear about thousands of different studies, this was one of the more exciting ones that I came across.”  

Currently, the only way to diagnose the brain disease that robs patients of their memory is by tapping into spinal fluid or completing a PET scan of the brain. Both procedures are expensive.

Researchers now believe they have found a key protein that could more easily diagnose the disease.

“These studies are really exciting and I think this might pave the way to a blood biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Rosenbloom.

Dr. Rosenbloom says researchers have discovered a protein called P-tau217. It’s found in the cell walls of the amyloid tangles in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also discovered the protein could be detectable in blood as much as 20 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, which could help with treatment strategies.

“In terms of clinical trial methodology, this makes the process much easier,” said Dr. Rosenbloom. “So, if we wanted to find a treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease and we believe that starting the treatment earlier is better, then it’s much easier to do a trial where you are drawing this blood test in patients as opposed to doing let’s say and Amyloid PET scan, or spinal fluid bio markers.”  

While that could lead to faster and cheaper testing of Alzheimer’s drugs, it may be years away as a diagnostic tool in your doctor’s office - but it’s a possibility.

“So this having a simple blood test where you can have it in the doctor’s office, could be life-changing for so many people,” said Sue Spalding, CEO of Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota. “That we can diagnose early and get them the treatments and the things that they need to live better with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr. Rosenbloom emphasizes that this research is preliminary. Scientists need to validate this biomarker in thousands of patients, not just the hundreds that have been done already. The science could eventually lead to a blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s.