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End of Alzheimer's? Doctors optimistic after breakthrough

Published time: July 08, 2014 08:59
AFP Photo / Sebastien Bozon

AFP Photo / Sebastien Bozon

British scientists have developed a blood test that identifies the 10 proteins that show Alzheimer’s disease is imminent, thus allowing physicians to take action against the condition before symptoms start to appear.

After studying the disease for 10 years, researchers from Oxford University and Kings College, in cooperation with UK company Proteome Sciences, say their test can predict - with an 87-percent accuracy rate - the onset of Alzheimer's within one year in individuals suffering memory loss.

The research took blood samples from 1,148, of whom 476 had Alzheimer’s disease, 220 had memory problems, and a control group of 452 showed no signs of dementia.

The team discovered that 16 proteins were associated with memory loss and 10 of those could predict whether someone would go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

Laboratory exams can now begin to determine which drugs halt the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The blood test is considered a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s, which affects millions of people around the world, because it would allow physicians to begin administering treatment long before a “cascade of symptoms” have taken their toll on the brain. At that stage, drugs will not help the patient

“Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease,” said Simon Lovestone, professor of Translational Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, as quoted by the Guardian. “If we could treat the disease in that phase we would in effect have a preventative strategy.”

“Although we are making drugs they are all failing. But if we could treat people earlier it may be that the drugs are effective,” he added.

Patients with Alzheimer's are seen during a therapy session (Reuters / Edgard Garrido)

The medical breakthrough comes at a critical time. By the year 2021, the number of British people with dementia will reach one million, two-thirds of the victims being women, according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society. In 2012, the last year when statistics were available, the financial cost of dementia in the UK exceeded 23 billion pounds (US$39.4 billion), placing a huge strain on the government’s healthcare budget.

Prime Minister David Cameron in June pledged to increase investment in battling dementia to 122million pounds ($209 million) by 2025.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s health secretary, said “This is welcome research on an issue we’re made a national priority.

“Developing tests and biomarkers will be important steps forward in the global fight against dementia as we search for a cure.”

AFP Photo / Patrick Bernand

Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, issued a statement through the organization.

"Finding a way to detect dementia before symptoms develop would revolutionize research into the condition,” he said. However, he cautioned that a test for Alzheimer’s does not mean the end of the disease, not a 100 percent diagnosis rate - yet.

"These 10 proteins can predict conversion to dementia with less than 90 percent accuracy, meaning one in 10 people would get an incorrect result. Therefore, accuracy would need to be improved before it could be a useful diagnostic test.

"Only through further research will we find answers to the biggest questions around dementia, so we will watch the progress of this study with interest,"
Pickett added

The test and treatment is expected to cost 100-300 pounds (around $171-$515) and be available within two to five years.