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Can a blood test detect dementia 15 years before its onset?

Wednesday 11th April 2018
German scientists have developed a simple blood test that may be able to detect dementia 15 to 20 years prior to its onset. Image: Gab13 via iStock
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Scientists believe they have created a new blood test that is able to accurately predict a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease as many as 15 to 20 years before they begin to develop symptoms.

Researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany have been working on a blood test that is able to distinguish between toxic and healthy forms of a particular protein found in the systems of people with dementia.

The body contains both normal and abnormal amyloid beta, with higher levels of the latter potentially leading to memory loss and confusion, which can be symptoms of dementia.

Until now, the only way to test an individual's amyloid beta levels has been via an expensive scan or an invasive spinal tap procedure. However, the new blood test makes it much easier to accurately test for potential signs of the degenerative illness.

A trial involving 874 participants saw Alzheimer's disease accurately diagnosed in 86 per cent of cases, which suggests that there is a real possibility this test could be widely used by doctors in the future.

Levels of abnormal or toxic amyloid beta can begin accumulating in a person's body as many as 15 to 20 years before they begin to show other signs of possible dementia.

Therefore, receiving results from this early blood test could allow people to try to make changes to their lifestyle in order to lower the risk of the degenerative illness progressing.

Speaking to The London Economic, study author Professor Klaus Gerwert explained: "Promising effects have recently been obtained with an immunotherapy treatment of early Alzheimer's with an antibody against the amyloid beta peptide.

"The present result supports the finding the amyloid beta peptide is crucial in the early onset of Alzheimer's and its folding provides a possible pre-screening instrument for this."

With approximately 850,000 people in the UK currently living with dementia and this figure expected to grow considerably over the next few years, making this blood test widely available could have benefits for a significant number of people.

Written by Martin Lambert

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