New Alzheimer’s Test Offers Hope for Families in Chapel Hill, NC

March 29, 2014 | By Lorenzo Mejia

In our home care agency in Chapel Hill, NC, we serve many clients with dementia.  One of the biggest challenges for families is having a firm diagnosis that helps them understand the disease their loved one.

Researchers have developed a test that could predict the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease by detecting abnormalities in spinal fluid.

The test detects tiny, misfolded protein fragments called beta-amyloid oligomers in cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients. Scientists used to think that amyloid plaques were the problem in Alzheimer’s disease.  Now it seems very clear that the aggregates are not the main offenders, but it’s their precursors, so-called beta amyloid oligomers. This is the key molecule and researchers feel that it could be the best, most reliable way to make an early diagnosis for an Alzheimer’s patient.

One important insight is that these beta amyloid oligomers may be circulating in the body for years, if not decades, before any dementia or cognitive symptoms arise.

In the newly announced study, researchers used a technology that they had previously used in the study of mad cow disease.   They demonstrated that this technology can detect beta amyloid oligomers at incredibly low concentrations.  In principle, their earlier work suggests it might be possible to detect even a single particle of misfolded beta amyloid.

The test makes it possible to distinguish between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and those who may be suffering from other neurodegenerative or neurological disorders with a very high degree of sensitivity.

The next goal of these dementia researchers is to modify the technology so it can be used with blood or urine samples.  This would make it much more accessible for screening people for biochemical signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

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