A new study from The Ohio State University suggests early diagnosis of Alzheimer's, critical to effective treatment, may soon become easier. The researchers found a new set of physical biomarkers in the blood and urine of Alzheimer’s patients that they hope will make future diagnosis faster, easier, and most importantly, more accurate.

The biomarkers are changes to certain proteins found in the spinal fluid and blood that are unique to Alzheimer’s patients. According to the study, now published online in Science Advances, these changes make the proteins longer, more rigid, and more clustered, and may be a way to help identify Alzheimer’s disease in patients through a blood test long before any of the more serious symptoms appear.

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“With a tool like this you may predict how fast this disease will go, and currently we can’t do that – we just know everyone is different,” said lead researcher Mingjun Zhang in a statement. “Looking at multiple indicators of the disease all at once increases the reliability of the diagnosis and prognosis.”

For the research, the OSU team used a database of spinal fluid and blood, plus medical information from patients actually seen by study co-author Dr. Douglas Scharre, a professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry in the Neurological Institute at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. They then used this information to look for notable differences in the bodily fluids of Alzheimer’s patients. According to Scharre in a statement, these biomarkers clearly marked changes between “normal aging and different stages of Alzheimer’s disease” in the fluids of patients.

Biomarker is a broad term used to describe any molecule or measurable body function that may indicate a process taking place in your body, whether this process be normal or abnormal, MyCancer reported. For example, some of the most common biomarkers in your body can be cholesterol in the blood, which is an indication of coronary heart disease, or white blood cell counts, which can be an indication of infection or even cancer. In addition, biomarkers can also be introduced to the body to help better reveal the absence or presence of disease, such as using radioactive iodine to measure thyroid function, Coriell Institute for Medical Research reported. In the case of this research, the biomarkers are specific changes to certain proteins that are only found in Alzheimer’s patients.

These newly identified Alzheimer’s biomarkers are not yet available for clinical use, which means you won’t be able to request the test at your local doctor just yet. However, the team is hopeful that their biomarkers will be a way to diagnosis the disease early on, and are now working on ways to make this test as inexpensive as possible.

What’s more, they believe the biomarkers can also contribute to Alzheimer’s treatment in addition to diagnosis by showing early on whether a specific treatment is working. This way, if the treatment is not working, patients will be able to quickly switch to a medication that may be more effective for their personal biology.

“A biomarker that shows that in three months, or three weeks even, that this drug is not doing a darn thing or is slowing down the disease will help us to not waste time in finding better treatments,” Scharre explained in a statement.

Source: Yue T, Jia X, Petrosino J, et al. Computational integration of nanoscale physical biomarkers and cognitive assessments for Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and prognosis. Science Advances . 2017

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