It has long been known that there are two proteins linked to Alzheimer’s—beta-amyloid, which forms plaques in the brain, and tau, which at a later stage accumulates inside brain cells.
Elevated levels of these proteins in combination with cognitive impairment have previously formed the basis for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
In a study from Lund University in Sweden, scientists found that people with Alzheimer’s disease can now be identified before they experience any symptoms.
It is now also possible to predict who will deteriorate within the next few years.
The study is very timely in light of the recent development of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, researchers examined 1,325 participants from Sweden, the US, the Netherlands and Australia.
The participants did not have any cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study. By using PET scans, the presence of tau and amyloid in the participants’ brains could be visualized.
The team found the people in whom the two proteins were discovered were found to be at a 20-40 times higher risk of developing the disease at follow-up a few years later, compared to the participants who had no biological changes.
When both beta-amyloid and tau are present in the brain, it can no longer be considered a risk factor, but rather a diagnosis.
A pathologist who examines samples from a brain like this, would immediately diagnose the patient with Alzheimer’s.
The team says if they can diagnose the disease before cognitive challenges appear, they may eventually be able to use the drug to slow down the disease at a very early stage.
In combination with physical activity and good nutrition, one would then have a greater chance of preventing or slowing future cognitive impairment.
However, more research is needed before treatment can be recommended for people who have not yet developed memory loss.
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The study was conducted by Oskar Hansson et al and published in Nature Medicine.
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