Biomarkers May Help Detect Alzheimer's Disease 10 Years in Advance

Will Bonesso

Altered levels of substances known as biomarkers in spinal fluid may predict the development of Alzheimer's disease up to 10 years before the condition can be diagnosed based on mental functioning, a new study by researchers in Sweden suggests.

Altered levels of substances known as biomarkers in spinal fluid may predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease up to 10 years before the condition can be diagnosed based on mental functioning, a new study by researchers in Sweden suggests.

The research team, led by Oskar Hansson, MD, PhD, of Lund University, took baseline spinal fluid samples from 137 people with mild memory impairment and then monitored them for development of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Their results showed that 91% of participants with low levels of beta-amyloid and high levels of tau (proteins that have previously been linked to Alzheimer’s) in the baseline samples went on to develop Alzheimer’s within the next 10 years, while those with normal levels of the biomarkers had no increased risk of developing the disease. In addition, they showed that participants who developed Alzheimer’s within five years of the baseline sampling had significantly higher tau levels than those who developed it within five to 10 years.

In a press release announcing the study findings, Hansson noted that the failure to develop effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease so far could be a result of initiating treatment too late, after damage has already progressed too far. If future Alzheimer’s patients can be identified up to 10 years in advance, he added, therapies may have a better chance of success.

Hansson also held out hope that predictions of who will develop Alzheimer’s will be made even more accurate by combining monitoring of biomarkers with clinical assessment, imaging of blood flow to the brain, and monitoring of neuron levels.

The study appears in the January edition of Archives of General Psychiatry.