Smell and eye tests show potential to detect Alzheimer’s early
A decreased ability to identify odors might indicate the development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, while examinations of the eye could indicate the build-up of beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s, in the brain, according to the results of four research trials reported today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2014 (AAIC® 2014) in Copenhagen.
In two of the studies, the decreased ability to identify odors was significantly associated with loss of brain cell function and progression to Alzheimer’s disease. In two other studies, the level of beta-amyloid detected in the eye (a) was significantly correlated with the burden of beta-amyloid in the brain and (b) allowed researchers to accurately identify the people with Alzheimer’s in the studies.
Beta-amyloid protein is the primary material found in the sticky brain “plaques” characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. It is known to build up in the brain many years before typical Alzheimer’s symptoms of memory loss and other cognitive problems.
"In the face of the growing worldwide Alzheimer’s disease epidemic, there is a pressing need for simple, less invasive diagnostic tests that will identify the risk of Alzheimer’s much earlier in the disease process," said Heather Snyder, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association director of Medical and Scientific Operations. "This is especially true as Alzheimer’s researchers move treatment and prevention trials earlier in the course of the disease."
"More research is needed in the very promising area of Alzheimer’s biomarkers because early detection is essential for early intervention and prevention, when new treatments become available. For now, these four studies reported at AAIC point to possible methods of early detection in a research setting to choose study populations for clinical trials of Alzheimer’s treatments and preventions," Snyder said.
With the support of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s community, the United States created its first National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012. The plan includes the critical goal, which was adopted by the G8 at the Dementia Summit in 2013, of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025. It is only through strong implementation and adequate funding of the plan, including an additional $200 million in fiscal year 2015 for Alzheimer’s research, that we’ll meet that goal. For more information and to get involved, visit http://www.alz.org.
Clinically, at this time it is only possible to detect Alzheimer’s late in its development, when significant brain damage has already occurred. Biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease may be able to detect it at an earlier stage. For example, using brain PET imaging in conjunction with a specialized chemical that binds to beta-amyloid protein, the buildup of the protein as plaques in the brain can be revealed years before symptoms appear. These scans can be expensive and are not available everywhere. Amyloid can also be detected in cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar puncture where a needle is inserted between two bones (vertebrae) in your lower back to remove a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.
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