Research breakthroughs hope for earlier Alzheimer’s detection

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
Alzheimer's disease illustration. (Credit: MGN)
Credit: MGN

Right now, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are working hard to find out why some people get it, some people don’t, and how to stop it.

Every 60 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease, but there are breakthroughs being made by those researching it.

Jason Ulrich Ph.D., a research professor at Washington University said, “there is a huge need for new Alzheimer’s disease treatments.”

One major breakthrough in the lab is a blood test that predicts the onset of Alzheimer’s 20 years before symptoms occur. It works by detecting the build-up of microscopic clumps of amyloid plaques in the brain.

Doctor Randall Bateman, a professor of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine said, “these clumps kind of break up the communication between our neurons that are needed for us to think and remember and do things that we normally do.”

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine report that when the amyloid levels are combined with age and a gene variant, brain changes can be identified with 94% accuracy. Now they are working to create a blood test to determine the presence of neurofibrillary tangles that occur after Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.

Bateman said, “so, when people do have subtle memory problems, we can tell whether, is it really due to Alzheimer’s disease, or is it likely due to some other cause?”

These simple blood tests could be available during a regular doctor’s visit within two years, bypassing the need for expensive tests and procedures.

Doctor Suzanne Schindler, a neurologist at Washington University said, “we can send as many people as we want to get a blood test and they can get it that day.”

Another breakthrough uses antibodies to alert the immune system to the presence of plaques and directs immune cells to remove them.

“When we administer it to mouse models that develop this disease, it removes these plaques from the brain and from the blood vessels,” said Ulrich.

In June, the FDA approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in 18 years.

The drug targets specific plaques in the brain, while also possibly slowing cognitive decline.

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