New test accurately detects Alzheimer's in its earliest stages

There is a new test that can detect Alzheimer's disease in its earliest stages. The test measures proteins in spinal fluid that can point to Alzheimer's. It is 87 percent accurate.

Tests like this, which look for biomarkers of disease, can help researchers to better focus trials of Alzheimer's treatments.

The test may also lead to better strategies to keep mild memory impairments from progressing into full-blown Alzheimer's disease, a fatal, mind-robbing ailment that is the most common form of dementia in the elderly, said Leslie Shaw of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Many researchers have been looking for ways to diagnose Alzheimer's in its early stages, as that would allow doctors to give people drugs to slow the disease.

Shaw and colleagues made a standardized test that measures the levels of two proteins in the brain: amyloid beta protein, which forms sticky brain plaques, and abnormal levels of the protein tau, which forms fibrous tangles in the brain.

Spinal fluid was taken from 410 patients for the study. People with low concentrations of amyloid beta42 were more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, presumably because the protein was accumulating in plaques in the brain.

People with high levels of tau in their spinal fluid were also more likely to develop the disease. "The release of tau into the fluid compartment is thought to be the result of the dying of the nerve cells. They release their contents," Shaw said.

Measuring these two proteins accurately predicted which patients with memory problems would develop Alzheimer's disease in 87 percent of the cases. The test also ruled out the disease in 95.2 percent of the volunteers.

Approximately 26 million people today have Alzheimer's, and experts predict this number will grow to 106 million by 2050.

"The general consensus is you are going to have the best chance to improve Alzheimer's disease if you can catch it early, when there is more brain function there to preserve," Shaw said. With this new test, it seems that it is indeed possible to catch it early and improve the patient's quality of life.

Source: Steenhuysen, Julie. "New test can detect early Alzheimer's: Study." Reuters.