For years, doctors have used an expensive brain scan to detect symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
But researchers at Washington University have found that a simple blood test could be similarly effective, according to a study published this month in the journal Neurology. A blood test to diagnose early symptoms could help make finding a cure easy or cheaper and even guide treatment for the disease in the future, the study’s authors say.
“For a long time, a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease was referred to among the Alzheimer’s researcher community as the holy grail,” said Suzanne Schindler, a Wash U neurologist and author of the study. “Really, until three years ago, a lot of people thought this was far in the future.”
Alzheimer’s patients develop tangles and plaques of amyloid protein in their brains. Scientists have not determined the plaques are what cause Alzheimer’s memory loss, but they do know those proteins are present in the brain decades before symptoms start.
Doctors use a technology called a PET scan to detect those protein plaques and diagnose the disease, Schindler said. She and fellow researchers studied 150 patients and found that a blood test run through a tool called a spectrometer could detect the plaques with roughly the same effectiveness as a PET scan.
In some cases, Schindler said, the blood test predicted future Alzheimer’s symptoms better than the brain scan.