In the most important study of its kind, scientists… discovered that a blood test that detects certain proteins could predict dementia as much as 15 years before an official diagnosis is received.

The researchers found 11 proteins that had a remarkable 90% accuracy in predicting future dementia.

Dementia is essentially the most common condition within the UK Murderer. Over 900,000 people within the UK suffer from the memory-robbing disease, yet fewer than two thirds of individuals receive a proper diagnosis. Diagnosing dementia is difficult and requires different methods.

These include lumbar punctures (to search for certain telltale proteins within the cerebrospinal fluid), PET scans, and memory tests. These methods are invasive, time-consuming and expensive, placing a heavy burden on the NHS. This means many individuals will not be diagnosed until they’ve memory and cognitive problems. At this point, the dementia could have been progressing for years and any support or healthcare plan may come too late.

People with undiagnosed dementia and their families cannot take part in clinical trials, have an organized health plan, and receive essential support. Improving dementia diagnosis would subsequently provide earlier support and enable patients to live longer, healthier and wealthier lives.

In this latest studyResearchers from the University of Warwick in England and Fudan University in China examined blood samples from 52,645 healthy volunteers from the British Biobank genetic database between 2006 and 2010. During the follow-up period of ten to fifteen years, around 1,400 developed dementia.

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, researchers analyzed 1,463 proteins within the blood. They identified 11 proteins related to dementia, 4 of which could predict dementia as much as 15 years before a clinical diagnosis.

Combining this data with the more regular risk aspects of age, gender, education and genetics, the dementia prediction rate was around 90%.

These proteins, present in plasma (the liquid component of blood), are biological markers of the changes that occur in individuals with dementia over a decade before clinical symptoms first appear. They function warning signs of the disease.

Why these proteins?

The 4 proteins most strongly related to all-cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (which accounts for 70% of all dementias), and vascular dementia (which accounts for 20%) are GFAP, NEFL, GDF15, and LTBP2.

Scientists showed that GFAP is the perfect “biomarker” for predicting dementia. The function of GFAP is to support nerve cells called astrocytes.

A symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is inflammation, and this causes astrocytes to provide quite a lot of GFAP. Consequently, individuals with dementia show increased inflammation, resulting in higher levels of GFAP, making it a very important biomarker.

The study showed that individuals with higher GFAP levels are greater than twice as more likely to develop dementia as individuals with low GFAP levels. Smaller studies have also identified GFAP as a possible marker for dementia.

NEFL is the second protein most strongly related to dementia risk. This protein is linked to nerve fiber damage. Combining NEFL or GFAP with demographic data and cognitive testing significantly improves the accuracy of dementia prediction.

The proteins GD15 and LTBP2, each of that are involved in inflammation, cell growth and death, and cellular stress, are also closely linked to an increased risk of dementia.

But despite the study’s discovery, other scientists have to warn that the brand new biomarkers require further validation before they will be used as a screening tool.

The lumbar puncture is certainly one of the cornerstones of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Casa Nayaifana/Shutterstock

The larger picture

Other initiatives are also promoting the introduction of blood tests as a widespread screening method for diagnosing dementia, including the Blood biomarker challengea five-year project that goals to make use of NHS blood tests to diagnose diseases that result in dementia by examining trace amounts of brain proteins that enter the bloodstream.

The exciting emergence of recent dementia medications reminiscent of: Lecanemab And Donatemabwhich isn’t yet approved to be used within the UK, has the potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients searching for treatment with lecanemab or donanemab require a diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK Estimates that only 2% of patients undergo such a diagnostic examination.

The study shows that blood tests are an efficient solution to detect dementia early by identifying specific proteins, giving the patient the perfect possible likelihood of life-changing treatment.

Early diagnosis of dementia would result in more practical treatment. An easy blood test has the potential to switch the costly, time-consuming and invasive tests currently used on dementia patients and ultimately improve the standard of life for many individuals.

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