Alzheimer`s disease is one of the most feared of all illnesses. It’s also currently impossible for doctors to diagnose before it has done serious damage to the brain.
But British scientists say they’ve made a major breakthrough in finding a test for the disease, which affects around 44 million people globally, a figure that’s set to triple by 2050, as the age profile of populations around the world change.
Researchers at King’s College London and Oxford University now say that, in trials, they can identify the disease in 87 percent of cases.
The new test identifies 10 key proteins in the blood of patients with mild cognitive impairment, who will go on to develop Alzheimer’s in the next year.
That’s significant because their research could lead to a test for the disease, allowing, in the future, drugs to be given to sufferers earlier.
It’s encouraging news; something that’s in short supply when it comes to research into the disease.
Between 2002 and 2012, 99.6 percent of trials aimed at preventing or reversing the disease were unsuccessful. Doctors say much of the difficulty has been caused by a failure to treat patients quickly enough, reinforcing the significance of the new research.
Professor Simon Lovestone of King’s College, says early diagnosis of the disease is vital if a future drug used against the illness is to work.
“A drug that worked in a pre-clinical phase would feel like prevention. You’d go along to your doctor, you’d take a drug and in effect you would have clinical symptoms prevented, even if the disease had already started in your brain.”
The test has been welcomed by Alzheimer's Research UK which part funded the study, though Dr. Eric Karran, the charity’s science director, cautions that it needs further refinement before being used by doctors to routinely diagnose the disease.
“You have false positives which is where the test will say actually you have a condition, or in this case you are liable to get Alzheimer’s disease, but in fact the test is wrong. If this was some benign condition then one wouldn’t be bothered, but we know that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared diagnosis currently.”
Doctors stress that the test is in no way a cure for Alzheimer’s but it is a step forward. So while it may not help the millions who who are caring for loved ones with the disease, it might make a difference in the future.
Further larger trials of the test are already underway.