The earlier the detection of Alzheimer’s disease the more likely it is that decline could be slowed or even stopped.

The testing currently on offer is invasive and expensive, and scientists around the world are looking for a cheaper and easier method. Researchers at Newcastle University say they are making progress in coming up with a blood test that could complement brain imaging.

“We detect it very late with imaging techniques,” said research leader Pablo Moscato. “When a lot of damage has been done in your brain, it’s unlikely we can come up with a solution.” The aim is for a 50-dollar blood test with a high level of accuracy.

“If we can catch this early, then the possibility of drug intervention is there because the drug companies would see a market and try and come up with one,” Professor Moscato said.

In a paper published in the PLoS (Public Library of Science) ONE journal, the team delivered a progress report on their work in developing a cheap two-part blood test that could determine whether a mild intellectual impairment was going to progress to Alzheimer’s.

“We’re looking at pairs of markers,” Moscato said. “The best possible measurement is if you take them at the baseline and then again in 12 months. Then you compare the variation between the pairs of proteins over that 12 months.” What the team look for acceleration. “It’s the rate of change of values that rings the bells,” he said. “If it grows and grows exponentially then we know we have something wrong.”

People with mild cognitive impairment do not inevitably develop Alzheimer’s. Some maintain a level of functioning and some progress to another form of dementia.

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