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Blood test to predict Alzheimer's

10th March 2014

Dementia affects 44 million people globally,  a figure that is set to treble by 2050.

alzheimers1

Without intervention this could be reflected in a rise of the £370b that is currently spent worldwide per year.

Alzheimer's can attack the brain for more than a decade before any symptoms reveal themselves. It has been suggested that the drug trials are failing because the patients are being treated too late to make a difference.

Scientific breakthroughs have the potential to transform medical research and allowing drugs to be tested at a much earlier, critical stage.

What has been discovered?

Scientists at Georgetown University in Washington DC analysed blood samples from 525 people over the age of 70 as part of a five-year study. They tested the blood of 53 of those who developed Alzheimer's or a mild cognitive impairment and compared it to those who stayed mentally agile.

The found differences in the levels of 10 lipids (fats) between the two groups. They showed that measuring the levels of these fats in people will allow them to predict - with 90% accuracy - the risk of the onset of the disease three years in advance, with potential for even earlier.

It is not clear exactly what is causing the change in fats in the blood, but it could be a residue of the early changes in the brain.

The findings, published in Nature Medicine, will now be tested in larger clinical trials.

Howard Federoff, professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center, told the BBC: "I think there is a huge need for a test.

Dr Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said the findings were "encouraging" and that a blood test would be a "real step forward".

"If confirmed, these results could also aid efforts to develop better tools for diagnosing Alzheimer's - allowing people with the disease to access crucial support and existing treatments sooner."

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