A technique known as metabolomics may enable an Alzheimer's disease blood test diagnosis before patients start displaying symptoms, Mayo Clinic scientists have concluded.
Their finding, detailed online in the journal PLoS ONE, comes at a dubious time for Alzheimer's drug research. Satori Pharmaceuticals recently shut down after facing preclinical problems with its lead Alzheimer's drug. And while Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Eisai are among companies that remain focused on developing Alzheimer's treatments, Bristol-Myers and Eli Lilly ($LLY) are just a few of the many pharmaceutical giants that faced big setbacks last year with other Alzheimer's treatments for which they held high hopes.
Drug obstacles aside, however, the belief remains strong that early diagnosis of Alzheimer's may be the way to go in developing successful drug treatments, and the approach is propelling diagnostics research around the world. In theory, spotting the disease this way would enable physicians to target it before it causes too much damage to delay or reverse any of its neurodegenerative effects.
The Mayo researchers describe their "relatively new" approach as something that measures the chemical fingerprints of metabolic pathways of things like blood sugar, lipids, nucleotides and fatty acids--things connected to mitochondrial function and energy metabolism (this builds on previous Mayo Clinic preclinical research). And they determined that patients with cognitive decline and outright Alzheimer's had major changes in plasma and their cerebrospinal fluid, and that plasma changes accurately reflected cerebrospinal fluid changes. This data came from 45 patients, a mix that included people with Alzheimer's, mild cognitive decline and no cognitive problems at all.
Why is the link of metabolic changes and plasma changes important? Well, the Mayo Clinic team, having made the link between mitochondrial changes and Alzheimer's, believes their work will help develop a new round of biomarkers that doctors could use in multiple ways. Those biomarkers would offer signposts for early Alzheimer's diagnosis, to be sure. But they could also help scientists determine which potential drug has the most promise. More work is needed here to bear this out, but the promise remains.
"We want to use these biomarkers to diagnose the Alzheimer's disease before symptoms appear," study co-author Eugenia Trushina, a Mayo Clinic pharmacologist, said in a statement. "The earlier we can detect the disease, the better treatment options we will be able to offer."
- read the release
- here's the PLoS ONE paper