Recently, some pretty exciting advances in blood testing have made the news. Just a short while ago a blood test for pre-diagnosing cancer was announced. Now, there is new hope for Alzheimer’s patients as well.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida are developing a blood test that detects antibodies in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients. Currently a blood test exists that tells if a person is at risk
but this test could definitively detect Alzheimer’s before the symptoms occur. For years scientists have searched for a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms indicate something is wrong.
The research is still in its infancy but using antibodies for diagnosis would be a simpler and less invasive method. Usually when blood tests are developed to detect diseases, researchers search for antigens, which are proteins from a bacteria, virus, or other disease process that elicit an immune response. Only when the antigen is identified can the search for the antibodies begin.
The problem is that antigens are so hard to find. According to Dr. Thomas Kodadek, professor of chemistry and cancer biology, “In Alzheimer’s, or in a disease such as cancer, it’s not at all obvious what the initiating event is. We just don’t know what are those first weirdly modified proteins that are unique to the disease process that the immune system ‘sees’.”
That’s why this new research took a different approach. Rather than search for the antigen, researchers used thousands of synthetic molecules to bind with antibodies.Capturing antibodies.
These synthetic molecules “capture” the antibodies from Alzheimer’s patients and enable scientists to locate biomarkers in the blood. Not only is this exciting news in Alzheimer’s research, but the same process could be used with other diseases. This new method completely negates the necessity of knowing which antigen triggers the immune response in the first place.
More research is needed before scientists know how quickly into the progression of Alzheimer’s these antibodies can be detected. Currently there are no medications that slow down the progression, although there are a few that can help with the symptoms. And while an early diagnosis may not be something someone with Alzheimer’s wants to know about, it could be the key to better treatment in the future.
The question remains if someone would want to know in years in advance if they are destined for Alzheimer’s if there is nothing to be done about it. Yet the chance of developing beneficial treatment without an early diagnosis is rather dismal.
The hope is that new drugs could be developed to slow down decline, and in that case knowing if a person has the disease before symptoms appear becomes crucial.