A simple finger prick blood test may help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, according to research revealed this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Amsterdam.
The blood test is similar to the glucose testing method used by people with diabetes. Instead of sugar, however, it measures Alzheimer’s-related proteins in the brain, according to a news release from the Alzheimer’s Association.
The test was more than 80% accurate in identifying dementia-related changes, which was significantly better than doctors who did not have access to the test, a study found.
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An added benefit of the finger prick test: It can be performed at home easily without a lot of preparation or processing, according to Hanna Huber, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who conducted a study of the test.
“Currently, use of Alzheimer’s blood tests is limited by the need to visit a clinic, administration by trained personnel, and strict time-limited and temperature-dependent delivery and storage procedures,” Huber said in the release.
“A method that allows blood collection at home and that is simple enough to be performed independently, or by caregivers, would increase the accessibility of these tests,” she also said.
“It would result in improved early diagnosis and better monitoring of patients considered ‘at risk’ or those who are receiving approved therapies.”
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a drug that targets an Alzheimer’s-associated beta-amyloid protein in the brain.
Before a patient can receive the treatment, the physician must first confirm the presence of the protein.
This is where the new finger prick blood test could be beneficial, according to Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, who is based in Chicago, Illinois.
“Blood tests — once verified and approved — would offer a quick, non-invasive and cost-effective option,” she said in the news release.
Currently, blood tests are being used to screen participants in Alzheimer’s drug trials.
In some cases, the tests provide data similar to what’s found in brain scans and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, the release said.
“While further standardization and validation are needed, blood tests may soon be an important piece of the diagnostic workup in everyday practice for detecting and monitoring treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” Carrillo said.
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These blood tests could potentially help primary care physicians provide faster and more accurate diagnoses, per the report.
A team of researchers analyzed data from 307 middle-aged to elderly patients at 17 primary care centers in Sweden.
In the study, the primary care physicians provided their diagnoses and suggested treatment after seeing patients in their clinics, where cognitive testing and an MRI or CT scan were performed.
Researchers also took a blood sample that looked for beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau, which are markers associated with the brain disease.
Participants then underwent a thorough clinical examination at a specialized memory clinic.
The physicians correctly diagnosed Alzheimer’s or Alzheimer’s-related changes in approximately 55% of the cases, while the blood test did so in more than 85% of the cases, according to the release.
More than 50% of the people who actually had Alzheimer’s did not receive symptomatic treatment — and 30% of non-Alzheimer’s cases incorrectly received treatment due to incorrect diagnoses.
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“Due to the lack of accurate diagnostic tools, it is currently very difficult for primary care doctors to identify Alzheimer’s disease, even among patients with cognitive impairment,” said lead researcher Sebastian Palmqvist, M.D., PhD, of the Clinical Memory Research Unit at Lund University in Sweden, in the release.
“This, too, often leads to diagnostic uncertainty and inappropriate treatment,” he continued. “Blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease have great potential for improving diagnostic accuracy and proper treatment of people with Alzheimer’s.”
As new drugs that slow down the disease in its early stages become more widely available, these tests may become even more important, the researcher said in the release.
Dr. Nikhil Palekar, director of Stony Brook Medicine’s Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease in New York, was not part of the study but attended the conference in Amsterdam.
“This is a major game-changer in diagnosing patients with Alzheimer’s.”
“This is a major game-changer in diagnosing patients with Alzheimer’s,” Palekar told Fox News Digital.
“It’s a simple blood test that can detect amyloid and tau proteins in the blood with an accuracy as good as an amyloid PET scan at a fraction of the cost,” he continued.
“I see blood-based testing to be immensely helpful in early diagnosis, and potentially monitoring the progression of symptoms.”
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Mary P. of Long Island, New York, who withheld her last name for privacy, has a mother who was recently diagnosed with moderate-stage dementia. The family had to wait for months to see a neurologist and go through testing before getting a diagnosis, she told Fox News Digital.
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“I wish we’d had this blood test at the time — maybe we could have started the treatment if we caught it earlier,” she said.
“Now it’s too late for my mother, since the disease has progressed and the drugs aren’t appropriate for her at her current stage.”
She added, “Maybe she’d have a better quality of life now.”