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How Close are We to a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s?

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How Close are We to a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s? about undefined
Conventional medicine has spent a fortune researching Alzheimer’s. Of course this includes trying to concoct a drug to treat Alzheimer’s, but it also includes attempting to find some kind of blood test – or other screening tool – that might detect the disease at an early stage before it begins to wreak wholesale memory destruction. While there’s no effective drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, there’s plenty you can do from a lifestyle perspective to slow and even reverse memory loss. That’s why it’s good to know researchers are also making headway on the testing front, so people can find out early and receive the motivation to put the lifestyle solutions to work. Most recently, researchers began pointing to a blood biomarker as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s see what they’ve found... Right now, the only surefire way to know if you’re developing Alzheimer’s is by various standard memory and cognition tests to see if you’re losing your ability to cope with daily life. Researchers are hoping a physical test – one that identifies compounds in blood, urine, saliva, spinal fluid, or whatever -- will change that, and they’re busy looking for such biomarkers that might show up in the body well before your mind begins to falter in an obvious way.

Finding an Alzheimer's Biomarker

This search for an Alzheimer’s biomarker is complicated. Scientists have to measure potential biomarkers in a large group of people whose brains still seem normal and then keep track of their health to see which of them eventually develop Alzheimer’s. Then, looking back, scientists can potentially analyze compounds originally measured to see if, in fact, they indicated which people eventually succumbed to the condition. This research is underway at the University of California San Diego, and scientists are already pointing to a potential Alzheimer’s biomarker.

Gene Protein May be Key to Early Diagnosis

The research seems to show that relatively large blood levels of RNA produced by the PHGDH gene in the brain may be a biomarker showing a significant risk of Alzheimer’s disease. RNAs are messenger proteins launched by genetic material. They carry instructions from the DNA to the rest of the cell for making proteins. In this case, RNA made by the PHGDH gene is crucial for brain development in infants and children. But as we get older, the gene’s activity usually drops to a very low level. But these California researchers believe they have evidence that if the PHGDH gene starts cranking out what they call extracellular RNA (exRNA) – RNA that escapes the cell – its presence in the blood stream may be an early sign that a person will fall victim to Alzheimer’s. Exactly why this type of RNA could be linked to Alzheimer’s is not known. However, the scientists believe it could be involved in a complicated process that contributes to the destruction of neuronal synapses – the links between neurons in the brain that allow them to connect in networks and communicate with each other to fuel thinking, learning and, of course, memory.

Promising Results of a 14-Year Study

The San Diego research involved people aged 70 and older who, starting in the year 2000, underwent periodic blood tests until 2014. After the people in the study died, the researchers analyzed their medical records and autopsies of their brains to see who had developed Alzheimer’s and who didn’t. That analysis led to the observed link between exRNA and Alzheimer’s disease. But, as the California scientists admit in their research paper, they need further studies to confirm these findings, and this additional research will take ten years or more. As researcher Edward Koo explains cautiously, "If our results can be replicated by other centers and expanded to more cases, then it suggests that there are biomarkers outside of the brain that are altered before clinical disease onset and that these changes also predict the possible onset or development of Alzheimer's disease." One thing the San Diego research has going for it – at least it was done on humans! I don’t know how many studies I’ve seen that looked promising in animals but flunked when scientists attempted to find the same results in people.

The Future of a Biomarker Test

Now, the pharmaceutical companies believe that a test like this would help them run clinical trials of drugs that don’t work in the late phases of Alzheimer’s – when neurons in the brain are already dying. They think that the drugs that have failed to help Alzheimer’s patients might do some good if taken before people show obvious signs of the disease. But from my perspective, and the perspective of natural doctors, identifying people on the brink of Alzheimer’s could be key in motivating folks to start eating better, exercising and enacting other lifestyle measures that could prevent Alzheimer’s better than any drug is likely to. So, I’ll keep an eye out for more research focusing on what these California researchers have found – as well as other studies looking into this subject – and I’ll keep you updated.

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