A New Blood Test May Help Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis in Its Early Stages

It is believed that Alzheimer’s begins to develop years before the first symptoms surface. This means that a diagnosis is not generally made until these symptoms become apparent. At that point, the brain has already begun to significantly degenerate.

Typically, a suspecting patient and their family do not seek medical assistance until they notice that something is abnormal, but what if there were another way?

What if a diagnosis could be reached much sooner?

Scientists Have Discovered a Blood Test to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Early

A team of Irish scientists recently developed a blood test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s in its early stages. This four-year study was conducted by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. These researchers included both clinicians and academics from Spain and Ireland.

Being the first test of its kind, this blood test is able to diagnose Alzheimer’s when symptoms are still mild. By diagnosing this disease early, this provides the most optimal opportunity in regards to future treatments. Also, when intervening as soon as possible, patients will experience an improved quality of life.

When testing the subjects’ blood, they found key changes in blood levels of microRNA. This small non-coding RNA molecule downregulates gene expression and was key in distinguishing Alzheimer’s from other brain diseases. If everything goes well throughout the clinical testing process, the researchers predict that this test will be available within about five years.

Studying Blood in Relation to Alzheimer’s

Heart and brain health go hand-in-hand, which is why researchers often study the blood in order to uncover clues about Alzheimer’s. Not only do they study components in the blood but also blood flow itself. In one study, published in Nature Communications, blood samples and cerebrospinal fluid samples were taken from 1,171 people.

These participants were part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Some were healthy, some were living with mild cognitive impairment, and others were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is well understood that keys changes occur in the brain long before symptoms develop. The goal of the researchers was to uncover the order in which these changes occur.

They measured:

  • The build-up of amyloid beta, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s

  • Changes in glucose metabolism, which is an indicator of energy utilization in the brain

  • Blood flow to the brain

  • Brain shrinkage

  • Overall brain activity

Related: This Cost-Effective, Scalable Blood Test Can Detect the Early Build-Up of Amyloid Beta

The researchers found that a build-up of amyloid-beta in the brain was one of the first changes to occur. However, based on their findings, changes in blood flow may occur even earlier. They concluded that vascular changes may occur earlier than previously thought.

Key Potential Factors That Should Be Addressed Immediately

There is plenty of research linking obesity to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Although this disease is complex, researchers have narrowed this connection down to three key potential variables, all of which relate to cardiovascular health.

  • Variable #1: High blood pressure — A common feature of obesity, high blood pressure is believed to increase amyloid production and also impair the brain’s ability to remove amyloid from the bloodstream.

  • Variable #2: Insulin Resistance — The connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s should not be ignored. Although insulin is most commonly associated with blood sugar levels, it also plays a key role in normal brain function. This means that insulin resistance in brain cells may lead to impaired function and in turn, memory loss.

  • Variable #3: Damaged Blood Vessels — Poor cardiovascular health can damage blood vessels and unfortunately, this damage has been shown to spread to the brain. This can lead to the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, increasing the brain’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

For more information on potential risk factors, please refer to our latest Infographic: 6 Key Factors to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s.

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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