Dispatch: Promising Alzheimer s Research

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The presence of three specific proteins in cerebrospinal fluid may accurately predict Alzheimer’s disease (AD) prior to the onset of any symptoms, according to a study appearing in the August issue of the Archives of Neurology. The cerebrospinal fluid of 416 patients in their 70s was analyzed for levels of three proteins: amyloid protein, total tau protein and phosphorylated protein. These substances are known as biomarkers, and the hope is that measuring them can be used to aid in the earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 102 patients with AD participating in the study, 90 percent actually possessed the protein levels characteristic of this disease. Out of the 200 patients in the study with mild cognitive impairment, 72 percent had Alzheimer’s-like spinal fluid proteins, all of whom went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease within five years.

Upon reading the research findings, ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross believes the news is “mind blowing.” He adds, “This presents a substantial promise that within the next five to 10 years, medical science will discover a breakthrough that will detect AD before the onset of signs of full-blown disease. I was already amazed at the state-of-the-art research aimed at early diagnosis and effective treatments for AD at an Elan advocacy summit in May on ‘Fighting Neurodegenerative Diseases Together.’”

Patients need to have a spinal tap procedure to have their cerebrospinal fluid analyzed, which got ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan to ask whether or not patients should opt to have this test even though Alzheimer’s is yet untreatable.

Dr. Ross replies, “It’s akin to people who want to have a PSA test in their 50s. Even though they don’t need it, many still want to know if they have prostate cancer, and many will want to know what the chance is that they’ll develop AD. However, only researchers should consider using spinal taps to give information about possible earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.”

Pointing out that spinal taps are not immune to false positive results, Dr. Whelan believes that “these biomarkers could be present but still not advance or lead to anything. The bottom line is that this is good news for prospects for long-term prevention and treatment, but its application now is for research purposes.”