Published on: October 29, 2014
by Leith Marshall for 9News:
Australian researchers have developed a simple blood test that could diagnose early onset Alzheimer’s disease 20 years before symptoms begin to appear.
University of Melbourne researchers already identified the changes in a patient’s brain up to two decades before, however it required expensive brain imaging tests.
Professor Andrew Hill said the study began by comparing genes, known as microRNA, of people with Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who do not.
Researchers then identified 16 microRNA genes out of 2000 in the body that have a direct association with the disease.
“This is an exciting breakthrough because we’re looking at a new target, which is these microRNAs that are encapsulated,” Professor Hill said.
“This is one of the first times it has been undertaken in Alzheimer’s research,” he said.
“The next phase is to look at 3-5 year period at samples to see how these markers develop but also to validate this across other patients.”
The team followed with a second study where the diagnosis of the patients was unknown, and using the same 16 microRNA genes, were able to detect Alzheimer’s with 91 percent accuracy.
“We believe it’s a significant finding not only for Alzheimer’s Disease, but the techniques we’ve developed we’re looking to apply to other neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease,” Professor Hill said.
“This has the potential to change lives, we’re an ageing population. Alzheimer’s and other dementias are becoming more and more prevalent because of that.
“Being able to diagnose these things early might give best hope of being able to treat or slow down the disease.”
The test is designed for people aged 65 and over, as both the body and mind need to have aged for the test to be effective.
While the test would not work on younger people, Maree McCabe from Alzheimer’s Australia told 9NEWS the hope was for the test to eventually be developed to work other types of dementia, such as younger onset dementia, which affects 30 to 50 year olds.
Ms McCabe also said it would come down to a personal choice as to whether a person would want to know if they have the disease or not.
According to Alzheimer’s Australia, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in Australia, affecting up to 70 percent of the country’s 330,000 dementia sufferers.
“We know there are certain things that can actually delay the onset … there’s certainly enough evidence to show that lifestyle factors can make a difference,” she said.
Those lifestyle factors include staying socially active, as well as diet and daily exercise.
“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” Ms McCabe said.
An affordable and non-invasive blood test could be available within three to five years, however further patient studies would need to take place before the blood test would be publicly available.
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