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Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine study how blood tests could predict Alzheimer’s risk

Amyloid beta, the sticky protein thought to contribute and progress Alzheimer’s, plagues the brain decades before one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is confirmed. Currently, there are only two ways to detect this protein in the brain. One way is via PET scanning, which is very expensive and not widely available. Another alternative is a spinal tap procedure, which is invasive and requires a specialized medical procedure.

A study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that measures of amyloid beta in the blood stream have the potential to help identify people with altered levels of amyloid in their brains or cerebrospinal fluid.

“Our results demonstrate that this amyloid beta blood test can detect if amyloid has begun accumulating in the brain,” said Randall J. Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology and the study’s senior author. “This is exciting because it could be the basis for a rapid and inexpensive blood screening test to identify people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

The brain continuously produces and clears away amyloid beta as it engages in day-to-day tasks. For example, some of this amyloid beta is washed into the blood and some floats in the cerebrospinal fluid. However, if it starts building up it can collect into plaques that stick to neurons. This can trigger neurological damage.

Amyloid plaques are one of the two characteristic signs of Alzheimer’s disease; the other sign is the presence of tangles of a brain protein known as tau. David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine, is developing a blood-based test for tau that could complement the amyloid test.

“If we had a blood test for tau as well, we could combine them to get an even better idea of who is most at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Bateman said. “That would be a huge step forward in our ability to predict, and maybe even prevent, Alzheimer’s disease.”

Read more about the study here:

Photo: Blood Testing. Digital Image. CB Insights. 10 December 2016. Web. 24 July 2017. <>.

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