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Blood Test for Alzheimer's May Be Ready Soon


A blood test that can be used to diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and differentiate it from other types of dementia may be ready soon, based on the results of a new study from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). The blood test is based on the production of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone found in the brain.

The new blood test could help millions

Researchers have long been working on screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease, and their search has led them to develop a variety of options that are still under investigation. Some of the approaches include an x-ray machine developed by the US Department of Energy, a special ophthalmoscope to detect the disease, and a 30-second test that involves measuring reaction times.

Now a team of researchers has announced that their clinical study “shows that a non-invasive blood test, based on a biochemical process, may be successfully used to diagnose Alzheimer’s at an early stage” and also allows clinicians to distinguish it from other dementias.

The investigators based their blood test on DHEA, a hormone that is present at high levels in the brain. Using blood samples drawn from patients with Alzheimer’s disease and people without the disease, they used a chemical process called oxidation to promote DHEA production in the blood samples.

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Although DHEA was produced in the blood of people without Alzheimer’s disease, no increase in DHEA occurred in the blood samples of Alzheimer’s patients. According to Dr. Vassilios Papadopoulos, director of the MUHC Research Institute, “there is a clear correlation between the lack of ability to produce DHEA through oxidation in the blood and the degree of cognitive impairment found in Alzheimer’s disease.”

In addition, the investigators noted that the blood test allowed for differential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in its early stages. Papadopoulos remarked that this ability suggests the test can be used “to diagnose the disease in its infancy.”

The need for a test that can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is huge, given the current and projected extent of the disease. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the projected number of people with Alzheimer’s will be greater than 65 million by 2030.

Although scientists have not yet developed a way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s, accurate early diagnosis allows clinicians to apply relevant available treatments and hopefully those to come. Papadopoulos noted that their study results “demonstrate that the DHEA-oxidation blood test can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s at a very early stage and monitor the effect of therapies and the evolution of the disease.”

Alzheimer’s Disease International
McGill University Health Centre