A blood test has been developed to predict if someone will develop Alzheimer’s within a year, raising hopes that the disease could become preventable.
After a decade of research, scientists at Oxford University and King’s College London are confident they have found 10 proteins which show the disease is imminent.
Clinical trials will start on people who have not yet developed Alzheimer’s to find out which drugs halt its onset.
The blood test, which could be available in as little as two years, was described as a “major step forward” by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, and by charities which said it could revolutionise research into a cure.
“Although we are making drugs they are all failing. But if we could treat people earlier it may be that the drugs are effective,” said Simon Lovestone, professor of translational neuroscience at Oxford. “Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease. If we could treat the disease in that phase we would in effect have a preventative strategy.”
Up until now the only truly accurate way to know whether person has Alzheimer’s is to analyse their brain in a post-mortem. However a clinical diagnosis can be made by a doctor based on signs of memory loss, poor judgement, difficulties with everyday tasks, language problems and changes in mood, personality and behaviour.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for around two thirds of cases. Around 600,000 people in Britain suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It is named after the German scientist Alois Alzheimer who identified the condition over a century ago after studying patients in the Frankfurt Asylum.
Although the elderly are primary victims of the disease – about a third of people over 65 die with a form of it – it also affects about 15,000 people under the age of 65.
The blood test would enable sufferers to plan for the future and to spend more time with their loved ones before their memory fades.
Crucially, researchers also hope it will pave the way for a cure by selecting patients in the very early stages of the illness to test new drugs.
The new test, developed by a team at King’s College London, works by monitoring the levels of ten proteins in the blood, or biomarkers, which are raised in Alzheimer’s patients.
A trial on 1,148 elderly patients found that it was 88 per cent accurate in predicting which of them went on to develop the disease.
The researchers believe the test will be ready to be used on patients in the NHS within two to five years at a cost of several hundred pounds a time.