A group of researchers has recently found that a blood protein can be used to monitor the progression of Alzheimer’s long before symptoms occur. These findings came from the work of scientists from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH) and the University Hospital Tuebingen and offer new possibilities for testing dementia therapies.
“The fact that there is still no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s is partly because current therapies start much too late,” said DZNE and HIH senior researcher Mathias Jucker. Jucker lead the study, and noted that scientists need more reliable means of monitoring Alzheimer’s progression before hindering symptoms occur.
Blood tests have been deemed a better candidate than brain scans in doing so, with many current innovations focusing on detecting amyloid proteins. These proteins aggregate in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, and are reason for concern if present in high quantities in the bloodstream. Rather than taking this traditional approach, Jucker and his team decided to analyze the proteins actually effect on the brain.
“Our blood test does not look at the amyloid, but at what it does in the brain, namely neurodegeneration. In other words, we look at the death of neurons,” said Jucker.
Dead neurons leave behind remnants that are detectable in the bloodstream, but these proteins are often challenging to detect. Jucker’s research managed to find one of these proteins that is more resistant to degradation, and therefore easier to detect.
“Normally, however, such proteins are rapidly degraded in the blood and are therefore not very suitable as markers for a neurodegenerative disease,” explained Jucker. “An exception, however, is a small piece of so-called neurofilament that is surprisingly resistant to this degradation.”
This innovative new blood test is fixed on detection of this protein. Published in Nature Medicine, the study showed that this neurofilament accumulates in the blood stream prior to the onset of any symptoms commonly associated with the disease. This test was also found to sensitively reflect Alzheimer’s course of progression, enabling physicians to predict future developments.
The study used serum samples and data from 405 individuals, each of whom being analyzed within the international research collaboration Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN). The network investigates families who display middle age Alzheimer’s onset due to genetic variations. Such genetic analyses allow researchers to achieve accurate predictions regarding when a family member will experience dementia.
The researchers also found that though neurofilament concentration was linked closely to brain degradation, but correlation with amyloid deposition was not as significant. This finding supports the assumption that though these proteins trigger Alzheimer’s, neurodegeneration occurs as a separate process.
A “Holy Grail” lab test would be one that accurately predicts #Alzheimers long before there are any symptoms. That’s what serial assessment of neurofilament light chain (NfL) might provide:https://t.co/ZWp47svpQu @NatureMedicine@WUSTLmed @MathiasJucker @DZNE_en pic.twitter.com/YWIgGkuZv2
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) January 21, 2019