Page 18 - Senior Times South Central Michigan September 2020 - 27-09
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Page 18
Senior Times - September 2020
New Alzheimer’s Blood Test
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       That Could Change Your Life
By: Sarah Ellis, Health Writer
The test, which is not yet available to the public, has potential to detect Alzheimer’s decades before symptoms appear.
associated with death of neurons and development of memory impairment in Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Oskar Hansson, M.D., a neurology professor at Lund University in Sweden and a principal author on the blood test study. Dr. Hansson explains that by identifying a specific variant of tau in the blood, researchers can see the extent to which tau is affecting the brain. “The test is specific for Alzheimer’s and is not elevated in other dementia disorders,” he says.
It’s highly likely that if you’re read- ing this, you know someone affected by Alzheimer’s dementia. In fact, one in 10 people over 65 years old lives with the condition. It is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, as well as a leading cause of poor health among those in their elderly years – especially people of color, who are more likely than white people to devel- op Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
The JAMA study recruited 1,402 participants, some as young as 25, to test them for Alzheimer’s blood bio- markers. Researchers found that this blood test could detect high levels of plasma P-tau217 up to 20 years before cognitive impairment symptoms may begin to appear. “The test is more specific than MRI and cognitive tests, which are often changed in similar ways in other dementia disorders,” Dr. Hansson says.
Early diagnosis is a crucial tool
to help slow progression of mem-
ory loss in older adults. However, Alzheimer’s is challenging to diag- nose, due in part to the lack of obvious medical markers to distinguish it from other forms of dementia. “Currently, Alzheimer’s dementia is diagnosed
in the doctor’s office, typically using cognitive testing,” explains Rebecca Edelmayer, Ph.D., director of Scientific Engagement for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago. The disease can only be diagnosed with certainty after death upon examination of brain tissue.
New research has paved the way for other Alzheimer’s-specific diagnosis tests, like a spinal fluid test presented in a 2018 study in American Family Physician, which can identify the lev- els of tau affecting the brain. But, as Dr. Hansson explains, these methods are costly and difficult to access, as opposed to the simplicity and ease with which a blood test could be distributed to clinics around the world.
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                                          That’s why a new Alzheimer’s diag- nostic blood test is making waves in the medical community. A study published in JAMA looked at a blood biomarker called plasma phospho-tau217 with the ability to pinpoint Alzheimer’s decades before symptoms appear. Experts say this could represent a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s world- wide. “We need those tools and tech- nologies to help diagnose individuals
at the earliest stages of their disease,” Edelmayer says, paving the way for bet- ter prevention moving forward.
“This is some of the first research to show that these tests may be even more accurate than we ever imagined they could be,” Edelmayer says. “There’s more research that’s needed, but it’s still a very exciting time,” she says.
 Here’s the thing about Alzheimer’s detection: it is typically a diagnosis
of exclusion, meaning your doctor will rule out other conditions before deciding you likely have Alzheimer’s dementia. This test could be a diag- nostic game-changer.
Edelmayer explains that usually someone will come in with concerns about themselves or a family member, based on symptoms of memory loss they’ve been noticing. The doctor will conduct a series of blood and urine tests, a cognitive questionnaire involv- ing friends and family, and brain scans to rule out things like stroke, brain tumor, Parkinson’s disease, or sleep issues.
It’s unclear as of yet what the time- line will be for getting these tests to
the public. These trials can often take years, but Edelmayer notes that the Alzheimer’s research field is moving quickly, “I do expect, based on the rapid progress we’ve seen in just the past few years, we’re probably not too far off from seeing these types of tools in the physician’s office.”
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  What Makes This Test So Useful?
This new blood test can detect Alzheimer’s through a very specif- ic mechanism: a protein called tau that accumulates in the brain. “Tau is
Research increasingly shows that early detection of Alzheimer’s risk could be key to slowing or stopping the disease progression altogether.
“It really is an exciting time for
the field right now,” Edelmayer says. “These blood tests are just one exam- ple of the efforts that are ongoing to support not only detection and diag- nosis, but also will help to support the development of new drugs and thera- peutics and interventions in the future.” These small steps all play a role in working toward the seminal goal of an Alzheimer’s cure.
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