Australian team advances Alzheimer's blood test work

Researchers at Australia's national science agency believe their effort to develop a blood test to detect early-stage Alzheimer's has reached a major milestone.

The team, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO (think Australia's NIH), spotted 9 blood-based biomarkers that correspond with PET imaging measurements of amyloid beta protein, a brain plaque that appears to be a sign of Alzheimer's advance. The next step, of course, would be the development of a blood test to screen for the disease in the early stage, and that's on the agenda. Such a test would be used earlier than current standards of care, which include cognitive tests, PET imaging or cerebral spinal fluid testing, though a definitive diagnosis is generally not possible until after a patient dies.

Researchers estimate that 1 million people in Australia alone will suffer from dementia by 2050, of which Alzheimer's is a leading cause. Diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's at the later stage hasn't worked very well, so scientists are increasingly focused on diagnosing Alzheimer's earlier. This goal is in tandem with drug companies focused on developing treatments to address the disease at that earlier stage, with the goal of preventing neurodegenerative damage before it is too advanced to make a difference.

To spot the biomarkers, the researchers drew on data from 273 people who participated in the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle study of aging, using a detailed mathematical model to process the information.

Their progress in developing an early stage Alzheimer's blood test comes as Siemens ($SI) and GE ($GE) have high hopes for their respective Alzheimer's imaging agents under development. Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) is also promoting a new diagnostics test panel that it said could help lead to Alzheimer's diagnoses by ruling out other factors. Saladax Biomedical, as well, is hard at work on an Alzheimer's diagnostic, and Amarantus BioScience recently licensed a blood test under development to spot Alzheimer's at an earlier stage.

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