Published on: March 10, 2014
by Health Canal:
For the first time in decades of research aimed at cracking Alzheimer’s disease, a team led by Georgetown University Medical Center investigators has developed and validated a simple blood test that can predict which individuals will experience cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s disease in two or three years.
The finding, published online today in Nature Medicine and to be featured in the April print issue, offers new hope for the development of drugs to delay or possibly prevent onset of the disease, for which there is currently no treatment. The numbers of people with Alzheimer’s are expected to explode – from 35.6 million worldwide today to an estimated 115.4 million by 2050.
“This is a very exciting finding because it finally gives us a good opportunity to make clinically meaningful advances in Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment,” says the study’s senior investigator, Howard J. Federoff, MD, PD, professor of neurology and executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center.
The Georgetown team also included Amrita K. Cheema, PhD, Massimo S. Fiandaca, MD, Xiaogang Zhong, PhD, Timothy R. Mhyre, PhD, Linda H. MacArthur, PhD, and Ming T. Tan, PhD.
Getting Ahead of Symptoms
Federoff led a team of scientists that found a panel of 10 lipids—or fats—circulating in the blood could predict, with greater than 90 percent accuracy in the study population, who would experience symptoms of cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s disease within three years.
The five-year study followed 525 individuals in California and New York who were 70 years of age or older. Of the group, 46 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease at the time they enrolled, and 28 went from having normal cognitive function to an impaired memory status during the study period. The blood test revealed marked differences in lipids between those who developed cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s, and those who developed no signs of disease.
Investigators chose this age group because they were the most likely to develop memory problems within five years.
In addition to several Georgetown investigators, other team members include researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of California-Irvine, Rochester General Hospital, Unity Health System in Rochester, Temple University School of Medicine and Regis University School of Pharmacy in Denver.
The team determined that the 10 predictive lipids were molecules emanating from the destruction of brain cells.
The knowledge that a cognitively normal participant in a clinical trial possesses this telltale lipid profile will allow drug developers to see if experimental agents can prevent the onset of memory impairment at an earlier stage, Federoff says.
“There have been many efforts to develop drugs that were thought to modify the history of Alzheimer’s disease and sadly, all of them have failed. One of the reasons for this is that the agents were tested in patients who already have the disease and that is the wrong stage to evaluate disease-modifying therapies,” Federoff says.
While it is premature to know if treatment for a few years before the onset dementia can make a difference, Federoff notes that “for the first time, the potential for drug therapy can be tested in a smart and rigorous way.”
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