In the first study of its kind, researchers were able to narrow down biomarkers in the blood that can predict if an individual will develop Alzheimer’s. People in their 70’s can take this experimental blood test, which may predict if they will develop Alzheimer’s disease within the next two or three years. Scientists report that the test has been accurate more than 90 percent of the time.
Dr. Howard Federoff, Vice President of Health Sciences at Georgetown University and lead author of the study, said, “The principle difference is we actually looked at individuals without symptoms, tracking them to see if they developed the disease. No other study has done this.” He adds that this would be a quick and easy way for seniors to assess their risk for the disease. Additionally, this test could potentially be a “game changer” if researchers are able to identify a treatment to slow the progression of this disease.
However, because there is no treatment, people who are going to take the test need to be prepared to get results that “could be life-altering.”
For this study, researchers took blood samples from 525 people ages 70 and older and followed them for five years to see who developed Alzheimer’s. After, the goal was to identify a difference between the blood of the people who developed the disease and the ones who stayed “cognitively normal,” Federoff said. Then, after sifting through more than 4,000 biomarkers, “We discovered that 10 blood lipids [fats] predicted whether someone would go on to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s.”
Federoff stresses that this research is still in the early stages, it needs to be further looked at in people of different racial groups and ages. However, this raises the possibility that in the near future, people can know their chances for developing Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said this knowledge can be a positive thing. “Knowing their risk of developing cognitive impairment is very relevant to making plans around retirement and where they live,” he says. “So there is certainly a role for knowing that information.” Dr. Mary Sano, director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the Mount Sinai Hospital, added, “It is interesting and exciting. But more work has to be done.”
However, one of the concerns with a test such as this is the stigma and identity that comes along with Alzheimer’s disease. Karlawish says, “How will other people interact with you if they learn that you have this information? And how will you think about your own brain and your sort of sense of self?”