Study leader Howard J. Federoff, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, says:
"Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder."
Rates of Alzheimer's disease - a condition that gradually clogs up and kills brain cells and leads to memory loss and mental decline - are rising rapidly around the globe. The disease mostly affects older people, although there are rare forms that can start earlier in life.
In 2010, there were 35 million people with Alzheimer's disease worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts this number will double every 20 years, rising to 115 million by 2050.
There are currently no treatments that cure or halt the disease, something scientists believe could be due to our inability to detect it before it has progressed to the point where clinical symptoms emerge.
Prof. Federoff explains that while there have been many attempts to produce drugs that slow or reverse Alzheimer's, they have all failed, and one reason could be because the drugs are tested at too late a stage of the disease.
Therefore, he and his colleagues focused on the preclinical stage of the disease, looking for biomarkers or telltale molecules that begin circulating in the blood before the disease takes hold.
Every year for 5 years, the researchers tested memory and mental skills, and blood samples of over 500 participants over the age of 70.
They then took the data of 53 participants who developed Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and compared it with 53 who remained cognitively healthy. They used mass spectrometry to analyze the blood samples. This method is used to pinpoint the unique chemical signature of molecules.
They found 10 phospholipids - a type of fat that forms a major component of cell membranes - were present at consistently lower levels in blood samples of most of the group that developed Alzheimer's or MCI. They validated their results in another group of 41 participants.
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