While research is also ongoing into the causes of and treatments for Alzheimer's disease (AD), there is also a rush to find a way to predict whether or not someone will develop the neurodegenerative disease.
Being able to diagnose AD, as well as differentiate it from other forms of dementia, must be looked at alongside the search for medication to stall or reverse the disease and genetic or environmental factors that could be an underlying cause.
A team of neuroscientists at Seoul National University may have a lead in early detection of AD. Currently, a high-resolution positron emission tomography (PET) scan is the only way for medical professionals to see the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that are most often associated with the disease. PET scans cannot always pick up every bit of tau proteins that are in the brain, however, and once they are visible on PET scans, the disease has usually progressed to moderate or severe levels, depending on the patient.
The team in Korea at Seoul National is partnering with pharmaceutical company Medifron DBT to market the test. While the presence of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain can be detected in the blood, they are proteins that are very often broken down in the bloodstream and do not reliably show up in the currently available biomarker assays. Levels of beta-amyloid are often compared to PET scan results to assess the accuracy, and the current biomarker testing isn't even close to 100% accurate.
The goal for the team was to come up with a way to process blood samples to halt the breakdown of the tau proteins was avoided. When they had developed what they thought was a process that could keep the AD proteins intact, they took blood samples from patients with the disease and compared them to PET scan studies. The rate of accuracy between the biomarker assay and the imaging was close to 90%. Also, their research showed the ability to find evidence of beta-amyloid levels in patients who had not even begun to show visible symptoms of the disease.
SNU professor Mook In-hee, who led the research, told the media in a Ministry of Science press release, "While most Alzheimer's diagnostics technologies identify the disease in patients with clearly visible symptoms, our technology can predict Alzheimer's even when a person is not showing symptoms. Our team also discovered beta-amyloids accumulating in the brains of patients who were not determined to have Alzheimer's according to cognitive tests."
The research was published in the journal Alzheimer's Research and Therapy. Medifron DBT has purchased the rights to license the technology and will work with the SNU team to start more extensive trials. There will also be a machine learning component to the research, with SNU computer scientists working on algorithms to improve accuracy.
The video below has more information on the recent research, check it out.