15-minute test could tag Alzheimer's

Though quick diagnosis and treatment in patients Alzheimer's disease is desirable, it's not always straightforward; symptoms aren't necessarily clear-cut, particularly in the early stages of the disease. Non-invasive tests looking at brain chemicals could help doctors, patients and families manage this distressing disorder, and diagnostic research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease has found a way to pinpoint biomarkers in the brain that could lead to an effective diagnosis.

Researchers use a technique known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at changes to the cell's metabolism and check out the health of cells in the brain. In this study, an Indian team looked at the hippocampus (the part of the brain that processes memories) in healthy people and people with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease. They saw biomarker changes in people with Alzheimer's disease--decreases in phosphomonoester (a building block for the membrane around nerves) and increases in phosphodiester (a sign of membrane breakdown), and in phosphocreatine and γ-ATP (both involved in brain energy storage). The left side of the hippocampus also became more alkaline--the brain usually becomes more acidic as it ages--and this could also be used as a biomarker.

This test is non-invasive, and could take as few as 15 minutes. The researchers plan to look at larger groups of people with Alzheimer's disease--as well as people with Parkinson's disease--to check the validity and specificity of these markers.

"It is our hope that such clinical research, using state-of-the-art technology, may give new hope to cognitively impaired patients for an earlier and more predictable AD diagnosis," says Pravat K. Mandal, Ph.D., of the National Brain Research Center, Gurgaon, India, and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

- read the press release
- see the abstract