Blood Test for Diagnosing Alzheimer's: A Major Leap Forward?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation


With so many of the news stories I summarize here, I include caveats about the long and arduous path that basic science must travel before a clinically beneficial advance becomes available to the public. The same caveat applies to the heavy coverage of a new, blood-based diagnostic test recently developed by the Scripps Research Institute and published in the January 7 issue of Cell.

Having said that, this scientific approach strikes me as one worthy of the frothy press it has already spawned.

The approach is exciting in its novelty. Rather than identifying the specific antigens that cause an immune response (production of antibodies) at early stages of a particular disease, and then screening the blood for the presence of those antibodies, the Scripps researchers took another path. They skipped the step at which conventional science is currently focused. That is, they did not bother with the daunting challenge of identifying which specific antigens might stimulate an immune response to fight in early stage Alzheimer's disease.

Rather, in their study, they loaded the blood with thousands of synthetic molecules designed to bind to antibodies of all sorts. By then analyzing the results from patients with Alzheimer's compared to those with Parkinson's and those deemed "healthy", they detected clear evidence that Alzheimer's patients had a much higher concentration of two particular antibodies in their blood. The conclusion, which must be validated with more data, is that these two antibodies are bio-markers for early-stage Alzheimer's disease.

This may prove to be extremely valuable in detecting early stage disease presence, but may pay other dividends as well. If these antibodies do indeed indicate a response to Alzheimer's pathology, then this study may also shed important, new light on the actual disease process which, in turn, could accelerate research on new treatments

Obviously, there is much science to conduct before the world can benefit from this research. But the prospect of leap-frogging one nagging problem in the process, the identification of specific antigens that indicate Alzheimer's, is an exciting proposition.

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