Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Discovery Could Yield Very Early Alzheimer's Test

One of the long hoped-for developments in science is a diagnostic test for Alzheimers that could deliver results prior to the brain actually undergoing the disease process. In that way, patient care would be improved dramatically, as we'd be working with the patient several years in advance of where medicine is currently.

Well, there's good news on this front! Researchers in Japan have detected a peptide in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that can show whether a person is developing Alzheimer's disease. Measuring the level of this peptide appears to show that the disease process has started, long before any serious damage is done to the brain.

This research, published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, raises new opportunities for combating Alzheimer's disease. Currently treatments can only be started after considerable structural damage has occurred in the person's brain. However, if this finding leads to use as a clinical test, treatment may be possible before too much damage is present, offering the hope of much better outcomes. It is really an exciting prospect.

"This novel peptide is the long-sought surrogate marker for Alzheimer's disease," says lead researcher Dr. Masayasu Okochi, who works in the Department of Neuropsychiatry at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine (Japan).

Currently, there are few or no signs that a person has the disease until the destructive process has been active in the person's brain for many months or years, which is why this discovery is so important (and the fact that once damage has been done, science knows no way to reverse it). Consequently, many are trying to find ways of detecting the onset of Alzheimer's disease long before any symptoms appear. Ideally, any diagnostics test of real value would use a sampling method that does not involve costly scanning equipment.

The multi-centre Japanese team analysed CSF and brain tissue samples from people with and without diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. They discovered that increases in this peptide corresponded to increased levels of one of the key constituents of the senile plaques that play a critical role in Alzheimer's disease.

"Our new test allows early diagnosis, giving patients the chance of getting maximum benefit from new drugs," says Okochi.


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