A new method for standardizing measurements diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been developed by researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University, Sweden.
The best part? It can diagnose the disease 20-30 years before any symptoms appear.
“We put a lot of effort into this project and it has been initiated and conducted, and now completed by us at Gothenburg within the framework of a global cooperation project that we head,” said Henrik Zetterberg, professor at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Gothenburg University.
According to Science Daily, the brain naturally produces beta-amyloid proteins that participate in the formation and removal of the brain’s synapses, which are essential to our ability to form new memories.
Zetterberg and fellow researcher, Kaj Blennow, have discovered that when a person has Alzheimer’s, the beta-amyloid protein doesn’t transport out to the spinal fluid and blood as it should; instead, the proteins clump together in the brain and damage the synapses, leading to nerve cell death.
The beta-amyloid proteins act as biomarkers, benchmarks that indicate the presence or absence of a disease. If the amount of beta-amyloid in the spinal fluid or blood is low, it could signify the onset of Alzheimer’s, thereby giving a diagnosis before any symptoms.
“If the concentration of beta-amyloid in the spinal fluid is abnormally low, it indicates that the protein is sticking in the brain, which is the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s disease,” Zetterberg confirms.
Symptoms of the disease include: memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, new problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, poor judgment, withdrawal from activities and changes in mood and personality.
The Alzheimer’s Association has stated that once the symptoms appear, the onset of the disease cannot be stopped or reversed. The nerve cell death will have already occurred and is irreversible; the disease is too advanced to be treated at this point.
So far, the best-case scenario for patients has been an early diagnosis. The earlier a person is diagnosed, the better chance they have of benefiting from treatment; spotting it early allows for more time to prepare for the future, and increases the patient’s chances of being accepted into clinical drug trials to advance research.
In the past, diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has required careful medical evaluation, which involves a thorough medical history, mental status checking and physical and neurological exam, as well as tests to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms. Zetterberg and Blennow’s new method is simple and more effective.
Adding to this success, recent studies have shown promising results for drug candidates that target beta-amyloids.
“These new drugs will likely prove most effective for persons who have just begun to accumulate beta-amyloids in their brain.” Blennow explains.
If this is the case, the combination of the new drugs and the new international reference method could provide Alzheimer’s patients with a much higher chance of benefiting from treatment. It is not necessarily a cure, but definitely a step in the right direction. Most importantly, it offers some semblance of hope regarding a disease that has so far been incurable.