Alzheimer’s effects 800,000 people in the UK alone, a major aim of research is to diagnose the disease earlier. Often Alzheimer’s is not diagnosed until it has advanced, sometimes years after dementia has begun. According to a study published in ‘Genome Biology’ a new blood test may one day enable earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
At the moment Alzheimer’s can only be diagnosed with certainty at autopsy therefore researchers are keen to find a successful and accurate test to identify the disease in living people. In fact German scientists believe they can distinguish between a healthy person and one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Their attention has been drawn to microRNAs (miRNAs); tiny pieces of genetic material that influence the way genes are expressed and circulate the blood. There seems to be differences in the miRNAs of healthy and those with Alzheimer’s disease. Results were promising as the test had a high accuracy rate of 93% when conducted in trials on 202 people. It is not only Alzheimer’s that the test identified but also conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. To further investigate the tests potential it needs to be validated for clinical use.
As Alzheimer’s is such a devastating disease affecting 650,000 people in England alone, many researchers are keen to find a reliable diagnosis. At the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Centre on Ageing and the UK Alzheimer’s Disease Centre human trials are underway to assess the therapeutic potential of microRNAs to delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Research is being led by physician-scientist Dr. Gregory Jicha, who is extending the work of fellow physician-scientist Dr. Peter Nelson.
Many scientist think microRNAs may actually be associated with hundreds of conditions. Despite the discovery of microRNAs being awarded a Nobel Prize no-one has successfully applied the discovery to human trials on neurodegenerative diseases.
Though things are definitely progressing in terms of finding a diagnosis it looks like we will have to wait a while longer for a clinically tested and approved diagnosis method.