British scientists have developed a new technology that they say could open the door to a long-sought blood test for Alzheimer's disease.
The University of Leeds researchers said the biosensor measures clusters of the protein amyloid-beta, an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease, Medical Xpress reports
The development, reported in the Biosensors and Bioelectronics journal, could offer new hope for identifying individuals with the disease — the most common form of dementia — at early stages, when drugs and other treatments can most effectively slow and moderate its development.
"At present, if you go to a doctor, they will do a memory test and they may say you have dementia," said Jo Rushworth, M.D., who led the study by a team in the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences. "They may also say that Alzheimer's is the probable cause, but the only way to definitely find out whether someone had the disease is to examine the brain after death."
As a result, drugs are typically given to Alzheimer's patient late — only after symptoms are present — when they are less helpful.
"What we need is a reliable early test so we can intervene when it is actually going to be of some use, " Dr. Rushwoth said. "If we were able to diagnose Alzheimer's disease earlier, the symptoms could be better managed and future treatments could be given at a time when they would have most effect."
Previous research had shown that traces of the proteins in a patient's bloodstream can indicate high level of amyloid clusters that clump together in the brain, impairing memory and thinking.
"Until now, it has been very difficult to pick out these amyloid clusters from the individual amyloid proteins which are present in healthy people. Our biosensor test uses a new molecular recognition tool that works like a lock that only fits one key; it picks out the ball-shaped amyloid clusters without detecting the individual amyloids," Dr. Rushwoth said.
She said the team hopes to develop a mobile phone-sized device — similar to monitors used by diabetics to detect blood sugar — that would allow for a finger-prick blood test to identify patients at risk.