Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects millions of people worldwide.
Early diagnosis and treatment of this condition are essential to prevent the progression of the disease.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that a particular type of sugar molecule in blood is associated with the level of tau protein, which plays a critical role in the development of severe dementia.
The study can pave the way for a simple screening procedure able to predict onset ten years in advance.
The researchers found that the level of a certain glycan structure in blood, called bisected N-acetylglucosamine, can be used to predict the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Glycans are sugar molecules found on the surface of proteins, and they determine the location and function of these proteins in the body.
The study demonstrated that blood levels of glycans are altered early during the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and this could be a predictor of the risk of developing the condition.
The research group has previously demonstrated a link between tau protein and glycan levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but these analyses were done on cerebrospinal fluid.
Blood markers are preferable, as taking samples of the cerebrospinal fluid is more difficult and brain imaging is expensive.
By measuring blood glycan levels, the researchers found that individuals with matching levels of glycans and tau were over twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s-type dementia.
The researchers analyzed blood samples from 233 participants of the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen (SNAC-K) collected between 2001 and 2004.
The follow-ups were carried out every three to six years and continued for 17 years.
The researchers found that a simple statistical model that takes into account blood glycan and tau levels, the risk gene APOE4, and a memory test can be used to predict Alzheimer’s disease to a reliability of 80% almost a decade before symptoms such as memory loss appear.
The study has significant implications as it opens up the possibility of a reliable, non-invasive, and cost-effective screening procedure that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease ten years in advance.
There is both a practical and a financial need for non-invasive screening methods for Alzheimer’s.
The researchers hope that glycans in the blood will prove to be a valuable complement to current methods of screening people for Alzheimer’s disease that will enable the disease to be detected early.
The researchers will now be analyzing blood samples from the remaining participants of the SNAC-K study as well as from participants of other aging studies in and outside Sweden.
They are collaborating with researchers in primary care in Sweden to evaluate different biomarkers for dementia at primary health care centers.
How to detect Alzheimer’s disease early
Detecting Alzheimer’s disease early is critical to slowing down the progression of the condition and improving the patient’s quality of life. Here are some ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease early:
Memory tests: Memory tests are simple tests that assess the patient’s memory and cognitive function. These tests are designed to identify memory lapses, word-finding difficulties, and other cognitive problems that could be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain imaging: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans can help detect changes in the brain’s structure and function that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
These scans can help identify the buildup of amyloid-beta protein and tau protein, which are markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
Blood tests: Researchers are studying the use of blood tests to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have shown that certain proteins and other biomarkers in the blood can indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Genetic testing: Some people may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease due to genetics. Genetic testing can identify if someone carries the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Self-assessment tools: Some organizations offer self-assessment tools that can help identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
These tools are typically questionnaires that ask about symptoms and risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about vitamin D deficiency linked to Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and blood pressure problem at night may increase Alzheimer’s risk.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and BMI declines 7 years before cognitive impairment.
The study was conducted by Robin Ziyue Zhou et al and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
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