SUNDAY, March 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A blood test has been
developed that can predict with 90 percent certainty whether a
senior will suffer from dementia such as Alzheimer's disease within
the next few years, researchers report.
The test relies on levels of 10 lipids, or fats, in the
bloodstream to estimate the chances of either mild cognitive
impairment -- which involves memory loss and a decline in thinking
ability -- or the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease.
Low levels of these 10 blood fats can predict impending dementia
symptoms with remarkable accuracy, said study author Dr. Howard
Federoff, executive dean of the Georgetown University School of
"We do not know why all 10 of those lipids are lower in individuals who are predisposed to go on to cognitive impairment," Federoff said. "We can't directly link this to our current understanding of the pathobiology of Alzheimer's disease."
Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific
relations at the Alzheimer's Association, said such a blood test
could prove easier to administer than current tests used to detect
early onset of the disease.
Doctors now must rely on expensive MRIs and PET scans that are
limited in their diagnostic ability.
"Blood-based biomarkers would be a great and useful option -- more accessible, less invasive, easier to gather and less expensive to process," Carrillo said. "Several are under development for preclinical Alzheimer's disease. More research investment in this area is urgently needed."
The new study involved 525 healthy people aged 70 or older who
underwent a full blood exam and a battery of neurocognitive
The research team then followed the participants for five years.
During the course of the study, 74 of the people slipped into
dementia or mild Alzheimer's disease.
Doctors compared their blood to the blood of people who remained
mentally sharp, looking for differences. They found that people who
later developed dementia started out with low levels of a series of
10 lipids, compared to the other study participants.
They then performed a second study in which they tested the
predictive power of the 10-lipid review on a separate group of 40
people. "We showed the blood test would be able to identify people
who would develop mild cognitive impairment," Federoff said.
The accuracy of the blood test neither improved nor diminished
when researchers added a genetic test looking for a mutant version
of the "APOE" gene that has been linked to Alzheimer's.
In fact, they found the blood test predicted dementia with
better accuracy than the APOE test alone.
Accurate tests that can determine who will eventually develop
Alzheimer's could play a key role in finding a cure for the
disease, Federoff said.
With no effective treatments yet available for Alzheimer's
disease, the usefulness of an early warning test for older people
remains uncertain. However, Federoff believes that existing drugs
may still have promise in treating people at risk for Alzheimer's
who have not yet developed the illness.
"Will those disease-modifying therapies show promise if you use them in patients at risk for the disease, before the horse is out of the barn, when they are clinically unaffected?" Federoff asked. "Can you delay or perhaps even completely stop the progression to manifestation? I think this opens up a whole new horizon for this type of clinical research."
Carrillo, of the Alzheimer's Association, noted, and Federoff
agreed, that further research into the lipids is needed.
"The results, while intriguing, are preliminary," Carrillo said. "They require replication and validation by other scientists in larger and more diverse populations to give them credibility, before further development for clinical use is warranted."
The study results were published March 9 in the journal
The study only showed an association between lower levels of the
10 body fats and an increased risk for dementia. It did not prove a
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