'Big breakthrough' means blood test can accurately diagnose Alzheimer's disease

Key points:

  • Researchers have developed a new blood test which can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease
  • Doctors hope the test could allow for diagnosis before symptoms appear
  • The test could also speed up the search for treatment of the disease

A team of international researchers has successfully targeted a key element of Alzheimer’s, creating a blood test which diagnoses the disease with 96 per cent accuracy.

According to the study published last week, researchers were able to use the protein p-tau217 to successfully differentiate Alzheimer’s from other neurodegenerative diseases.

“This is a really big breakthrough because the ability to really accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with a blood test, that’s new,” Michael Weiner from the University of California, San Francisco told 7.30.

Dr Weiner runs the Alzheimer’s disease neuroimaging initiative, which is the largest funded study of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and Canada.

“We don’t have a treatment yet,” he said.

“But the ability to do a diagnosis with a blood test is going to accelerate the ability to find treatments and ultimately to find a way to prevent the disease.”

Existing tests and treatments are expensive

For Matthew Kiernan, of the Brain and Mind Centre at Sydney University, this discovery is “a breakthrough”.

“It’s a diagnostic biomarker for the disease and that’s critically important in terms of taking the whole field forward and coming up with therapies for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

It could help doctors diagnose and even treat the disease decades before the symptoms appear.

“The majority of patients wouldn’t want to be on 20 years of therapy for no purpose,” Professor Kiernan said.

“The type of treatments we’re looking at, monoclonal antibodies, gene-related therapies, they are incredibly expensive surgery, putting patients on these therapies for potentially 20 to 25 years before they’re even symptomatic.”

Patients could then make critical lifestyle choices much earlier.

“There’s probably 10 to 15 reversible factors that can affect improve your outcomes with dementia,” Professor Kiernan said.

“Simple exercise engagement, monitoring blood pressure, not smoking, low blood sugars, and mental and physical engagement are critical for the outcomes of patients who have dementia today.”

Is it better to know or not?

Bill Yeates is a former deputy principal from Sydney’s northern beaches who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2019.

He is treating the symptoms of his condition by using a positive mindset and regular cognitive tasks including working as a waiter in a restaurant he part-owns.

He is also focussed on much healthier living.

“I love my red wine and I love my whiskey but probably in the last year I’ve had two glasses of red,” he said.

“I just don’t drink anymore — I just cut that out.

“I don’t eat processed food anymore either.”

Mr Yeates said he would have welcomed the chance of an early diagnosis before he showed any symptoms.

“I think for me, it would have been an absolute life-changer,” he said.

But he accepts that not everyone feels the same way he does, and others might not want to know.

“They might say that, you know, I don’t want to have that test because I don’t want to know,” he said.

“Well, that’s a personal thing.

“But from my perspective, if there was a possibility that I’m going to head down this path, and by having a test, which would tell me that [ … ]

What do you think?

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