Alzheimer’s Blood Test ‘Available In Five Years’

A simple test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease could be available within five years, scientists said yesterday.

Patient groups and scientists hope that the development of a simple blood test will lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatments.

This week, the National Audit Office condemned the NHS’s treatment of people with dementia. It said that as many as half of sufferers never receive a diagnosis.

Patients in the early stages of the condition have raised levels of two proteins in their blood, said British researchers.

Dr Madhav Thambisetty, part of the research team at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “The frustration for so many people has been that by the time you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is effectively too late to do much about it.

“The challenge has been to find what may cause Alzheimer’s and to see if we can identify it before it sets in and therefore give patients an opportunity to have effective treatment.

“Our holy grail is to devise a simple blood test that can eventually be administered at a GP’s surgery.”

Alzheimer’s affects one in 10 people over the age of 65. The only clinical tests are expensive brain scans carried out in hospitals or painful lumbar punctures to test spinal fluid, which can have side effects.

The early stages are difficult to diagnose. The degenerative disease affects brain cells, which leads to memory loss and mood changes.

A study published in the journal Brain compared proteins in the blood of people with and without the disease. They identified two that suggest an increased risk of Alzheimer’s when found in higher concentrations.

The researchers are also seeking to confirm early findings that the levels of up to 15 proteins could be higher in Alzheimer’s sufferers.

They are also believed to have found out that certain proteins are linked to changes in the brain and different stages of Alzheimer’s. This means that a blood test could be developed to assess the severity of the disease.

The results of the project, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, are expected to be published in a scientific journal this year.

Prof Clive Ballard, the director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “A non-invasive blood test would be of enormous significance, helping clinicians to effectively identify the disease.

“Early diagnosis allows people with dementia and their carers to start preparing for the future.

“The key value to this latest study could be in whether it uncovers a method for identifying proteins linked to different stages of Alzheimer’s.”

The research team is trying to simplify the test so that it can be carried out in hospitals. They are seeking funding of about £2 million to pay for a larger trial.

Prof Simon Lovestone, also of the Institute of Psychiatry, said last night that he expected the test to be available for doctors in about five years.

He added: “We need to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier and we need to get more effective drugs to people when they need them most.

“We have not just found blood proteins that differ in people with Alzheimer’s, but have also confirmed this in a sample of 500 individuals.

“We are very keen to move to the next step.”