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Alzheimer’s blood test revolution for over-50s


A blood test that detects Alzheimer’s 10 to 15 years before a patient shows symptoms could be used to screen all over-50s.

Measuring levels of a protein in the blood called p-tau217 has been shown to be cheaper, easier and at least as accurate as the current diagnosis options, a study has found.

The protein is a sign of disease in the brain caused when tau starts to attack neurons. This can occur up to 15 years before symptoms such as forgetfulness and cognitive decline start.

More than one million people are expected to be living with Alzheimer’s or dementia in Britain by 2030 and it is hoped that beginning early treatment could make it easier to tackle their symptoms.

Experts believe the blood test could become as routine as monitoring cholesterol to help prevent heart disease.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg looked at data on almost 800 people in their fifties, sixties and seventies from three different trials that used a combination of data from the makers of the blood test Quanterix and lab tests. They compared the blood test with current methods, such as a lumbar puncture to screen spinal fluid, or a PET scan.

The test was able to categorise people into likely, intermediate, or unlikely to develop Alzheimer’s and data showed measuring p-tau217 in the blood could be just as good as the existing tests with an accuracy of more than 95 per cent.

Improved screening

The new findings have the potential to “revolutionise” diagnosis for people with suspected Alzheimer’s, experts say, and could pave the way for a screening process for all people over a certain age.

Currently, only two per cent of eligible patients in the UK get a PET scan or lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, with thousands unable to access the diagnostic tools.

A lumbar puncture involves a needle being inserted into the lower back, between the bones in the spine.

“When effective treatments to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s disease become available it will be essential to be able to identify people who are at high risk before they begin to deteriorate,” said David Curtis, honorary professor at UCL Genetics Institute.

“This study shows that a simple blood test might be able to do this by measuring levels of tau protein in the blood which has been phosphorylated in a specific way.

“This could potentially have huge implications. Everybody over 50 could be routinely screened every few years, in much the same way as they are now screened for high cholesterol.

“It is possible that currently available treatments for Alzheimer’s disease would work better in those diagnosed early in this way.”

There are estimated to be 944,000 people living with dementia in Britain, with the majority suffering from Alzheimer’s. One in three people born in the UK this year is expected to develop dementia in their lifetime.

The condition costs the country £34.7 billion annually and is now the leading cause of death.



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