Researchers say that a blood test to accurately detect biomarkers which can predict future development of Alzheimer’s disease is edging closer to reality.
The early warning would allow physicians to intervene at the earliest, most treatable stage.
Robert Nagele, Ph.D., and colleagues from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine presented their most recent findings at a recent osteopathic medicine conference.
Nagele’s team uses auto-antibodies as blood-based biomarkers to accurately detect the presence of Alzheimer’s disease and pinpoint the stage to which a disease has progressed.
By detecting Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms emerge, researchers hope those with disease-related auto-antibody biomarkers will be encouraged to make beneficial lifestyle changes that may help to slow development of the disease.
“There are significant benefits to early disease detection because we now know that many of the same conditions that lead to vascular disease are also significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
“People found to have preclinical disease can take steps to improve their vascular health, including watching their diet, exercising, and managing any weight and blood pressure issues to help stave off or slow disease progression,” Nagele said.
Although the precise cause of Alzheimer’s remains elusive, it is clear that maintaining a healthy blood-brain barrier is a critical preventative measure. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, and being overweight jeopardize vascular health.
As blood vessels in the brain weaken or become brittle with age, they begin to leak, which allows plasma components including brain-reactive auto-antibodies into the brain. There, the auto-antibodies can bind to neurons and accelerate the accumulation of beta amyloid deposits, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s pathology.
The blood test developed by Nagele has also shown promise in detecting other diseases, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and breast cancer. His team’s research on the role of autoantibodies explains that:
- all humans possess thousands of auto-antibodies in their blood;
- these auto-antibodies specifically bind to blood-borne cellular debris generated by organs and tissues all over the body;
- an individual’s auto-antibody profile is strongly influenced by age, gender, and the presence of specific diseases or injuries; and
- diseases create characteristic changes in auto-antibody profiles that, when detected, can serve as biomarkers that reveal the presence of the disease.
In Alzheimer’s, the brain begins to change years before symptoms emerge. Detecting Alzheimer’s antibodies at the preclinical stage would give patients an opportunity to work with their physician to make lifestyle changes or receive available treatments before they become symptomatic.
Potentially, this early intervention could help those with preclinical Alzheimer’s avoid or delay the most devastating symptoms.
“As osteopathic physicians, we constantly tell patients that a healthy lifestyle is the best medicine for preventing disease. We also know that many people tune out messages about nutrition and exercise until a health crisis gets their attention,” said Jennifer Caudle, D.O., assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University.
“I can’t think of a single patient who wouldn’t take steps to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s if they could directly affect their prognosis.”
Today, there is no definitive FDA-approved blood test for Alzheimer’s, which affects an estimated 5.3 million Americans. It is among the top 10 causes of death in America.