Simple Diagnostic Tool Predicts Individual Risk of Alzheimer’s

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed an algorithm that combines data from a simple blood test and brief memory tests, to predict with great accuracy who will develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

Approximately 20-30% of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are wrongly diagnosed within specialist healthcare, and diagnostic work-up is even more difficult in primary care. Accuracy can be significantly improved by measuring the proteins tau and beta-amyloid via a spinal fluid sample, or PET scan. However, those methods are expensive and only available at a relatively few specialized memory clinics worldwide. Early and accurate diagnosis of AD is becoming even more important, as new drugs that slow down the progression of the disease will hopefully soon become available.

A research group led by Professor Oskar Hansson at Lund University have now shown that a combination of relatively easily acccessible tests can be used for early and reliable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The study examined 340 patients with mild memory impairment in the Swedish BioFINDER Study, and the results were confirmed in a North American study of 543 people.

A combination of a simple blood test (measuring a variant of the tau protein and a risk gene for Alzheimer’s) and three brief cognitive tests that only take 10 minutes to complete, predicted with over 90% certainty which patients would develop Alzheimer’s dementia within four years. This simple prognostic algorithm was significantly more accurate than the clinical predictions by the dementia experts who examined the patients, but did not have access to expensive spinal fluid testing or PET scans, said Oskar Hansson.

Our algorithm is based on a blood analysis of phosphylated tau and a risk gene for Alzheimer’s, combined with testing of memory and executive function. We have now developed a prototype online tool to estimate the individual risk of a person with mild memory complaints developing Alzheimer’s dementia within four years”, explains Sebastian Palmqvist, first author of the study and associate professor at Lund University.

One clear advantage of the algorithm is that it has been developed for use in clinics without access to advanced diagnostic instruments. In the future, the algorithm might therefore make a major difference in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s within primary healthcare.

The algorithm has currently only been tested on patients who have been examined in memory clinics. Our hope is that it will also be validated for use in primary healthcare as well as in developing countries with limited resources”, says Sebastian Palmqvist.

Simple diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s could also improve the development of drugs, as it is difficult to recruit the suitable study partcipants for drug trials in a time- and cost-effective manner. ”The algorithm will enable us to recruit people with Alzheimer’s at an early stage, which is when new drugs have a better chance of slowing the course of the disease”, concludes Professor Oskar Hansson.

The findings are published in Nature Medicine.

Source: https://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/

Eye Test Reveals How Likely Is A Person To Develop Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins to alter and damage the brain years — even decadesbefore symptoms appear, making early identification of AD risk paramount to slowing its progression.

In a new study published online in the September 9, 2019 issue of the Neurobiology of Aging , scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say that, with further developments, measuring how quickly a person’s pupil dilates while they are taking cognitive tests may be a low-cost, low-invasive method to aid in screening individuals at increased genetic risk for AD before cognitive decline begins.

In recent years, researchers investigating the pathology of AD have primarily directed their attention at two causative or contributory factors: the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain called amyloid-beta and tangles of a protein called tau. Both have been linked to damaging and killing neurons, resulting in progressive cognitive dysfunction.

The new study focuses on pupillary responses which are driven by the locus coeruleus (LC), a cluster of neurons in the brainstem involved in regulating arousal and also modulating cognitive function. Tau is the earliest occurring known biomarker for AD; it first appears in the LC; and it is more strongly associated with cognition than amyloid-beta. The study was led by first author William S. Kremen, PhD, and senior author Carol E. Franz, PhD, both professors of psychiatry and co-directors of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The LC drives pupillary response — the changing diameter of the eyes’ pupils — during cognitive tasks. (Pupils get bigger the more difficult the brain task.) In previously published work, the researchers had reported that adults with mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to AD, displayed greater pupil dilation and cognitive effort than cognitively normal individuals, even if both groups produced equivalent results. Critically, in the latest paper, the scientists link pupillary dilation responses with identified AD risk genes.

face of an elderly man

How quickly a person’s pupils dilate while doing mental tasks may be an indicator of increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, LC and tau and the association between pupillary response and AD polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual’s inherited AD risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer’s before symptom appear,” said Kremen.

Source: https://health.ucsd.edu/