Blood Test Breakthrough: Predicting Dementia Decades in Advance

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Researchers from the U.K. and China have reported a significant discovery regarding frozen blood samples, unveiling a wealth of proteins that could potentially forecast various forms of dementia more than a decade before the onset of the illness.

Published in the journal Nature Aging, this study represents a pivotal contribution to ongoing research efforts aimed at identifying individuals at risk of dementia through a straightforward blood test. Such an advancement is anticipated to catalyze the development of novel treatments in the field, according to numerous scientists.

Presently, while brain scans can detect abnormal levels of the protein beta-amyloid years prior to the manifestation of Alzheimer’s dementia, these tests remain expensive and often fall outside the coverage of insurance policies.

Dr. Suzanne Schindler, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, commented on the study, expressing optimism regarding the potential development of blood tests capable of predicting dementia risk over the next decade. However, she also highlighted the challenges individuals at higher risk might face in determining appropriate responses.

Study author Jian-Feng Feng from Fudan University in Shanghai emphasized the criticality of such tests in aging populations, particularly in countries like China. He revealed ongoing discussions regarding the commercial development of a blood test based on their research findings.

Examining 52,645 blood samples from the U.K.’s Biobank research repository, collected between 2006 and 2010, researchers from the University of Warwick and Fudan University identified 1,417 individuals who eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or dementia from various causes. Analyzing protein signatures common in these cases, they pinpointed 1,463 proteins associated with dementia, ranking them based on predictive likelihood.

Their investigation unveiled that individuals with elevated levels of proteins such as GFAP, NEFL, GDF15, and LTBP2 in their blood were consistently more prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or dementia from any cause. Notably, individuals with heightened levels of GFAP were 2.32 times more likely to develop dementia, corroborating previous findings from smaller studies.

However, the authors cautioned that their research awaits independent validation.

One protein showing promise in predicting dementia, neurofilament light, is already utilized in clinical settings for diagnosing and monitoring certain conditions like multiple sclerosis, noted Schindler.

Schindler also pointed out that the study did not incorporate clinically available blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease, which could potentially offer even better predictions regarding dementia development.

These tests are already instrumental in identifying candidates for clinical trials testing treatments in patients with early-stage or presymptomatic disease, exemplified by the recent regulatory approval of Eisai and Biogen’s drug, Leqembi, in the United States, Japan, and China.


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