New blood test for Alzheimer’s offers hope

pharmafile | February 1, 2018 | News story | Research and Development Alzheimer's, biotech, drugs, pharma, pharmaceutical 

To say January was a bleak month for Alzheimer’s research would be something of an understatement: Pfizer ducked out of the space and there were some significant drug failures.

That’s why the news that Japanese and Australian scientists have managed to develop a new means of early testing for the disease is being welcomed so strongly.

The enthusiasm by which the news has been met is also down to how positive the results seem to be: a small amount of blood was able to determine with 90% accuracy whether a patient had a build of amyloid protein in the brain.

The test itself works by analysing blood to determine amyloid beta fragments, higher levels were associated with increased likelihood of build-up in the brain – one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study included 373 patients in total, from the ages of 60 to 90 years – cutting across a representative portion of the population by including those deemed cognitively normal, those with mild cognitive impairment and those living with Alzheimer’s.

Current methods to test whether there is a build-up of the amyloid protein in the brain is to conduct a positron emission tomography imaging (PET scan) or by taking a sample cerebrospinal fluid through a lumber puncture or spinal tap. Both are expensive procedures, and a blood test would offer an all-round more convenient means of testing.

Why is being able to test for amyloid so significant? There are a number of reasons, from simply allowing patients to know their risk before the disease develops to the promising way it could revolutionise drug trials.

The number of Alzheimer’s treatment failures has dissuaded some, such as Pfizer, from continuing in the area but those remaining in the area believe that early prevention may be the key. #

If a blood test could show potential risk many years before disease development then medicines could be tested as a preventative early on. It could also allow for more targeted recruitment to clinical trials.

The authors of the study wrote, “These results demonstrate the potential clinical utility of plasma biomarkers in predicting brain amyloid-β burden at an individual level. These plasma biomarkers also have cost–benefit and scalability advantages over current techniques, potentially enabling broader clinical access and efficient population screening”.

Further tests are needed to determine whether the blood test can be rolled out further but it offers a glimmer of hope that the battle against Alzheimer’s is progressing.

Ben Hargreaves

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