Blood fats point to Alzheimer's diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease is a growing area for biomarkers, with new markers emerging seemingly every week. The latest is a lipid-based marker, a type of fat known as ceramides, which could lead to a blood test for this devastating neurological disease, which was found as part of the Women's Health and Aging Study II and reported in Neurology.

Ceramides have been linked with inflammation and cell death, and also with memory problems, but this is the first time that they have been linked with dementia, according to the researchers. The team screened the blood of 99 women aged between 70 and 79 for ceramides, and then followed them up for 6 visits over 9 years. Those women who had the highest levels of ceramides were 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than women with the lowest levels. Women with mid-levels of the biomarker were also 8 times more likely to develop the disease.

"These findings are important because identifying an accurate biomarker for early Alzheimer's that requires little cost and inconvenience to a patient could help change our focus from treating the disease to preventing or delaying it," said Valory Pavlik, of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center of Baylor College of Medicine, in an accompanying editorial.

Finding Alzheimer's disease biomarkers is important, as projections suggest that the numbers of people with the disease could double every 20 years. These are early results from a relatively small study, however, and larger, more diverse studies are needed to confirm them.

In other news, research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2012 has started to validate the April 2011 guidelines for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

- read the press release about the ceramides
- see the abstract and commentary from Neurology
- check out the press release from the conference