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  • Khushboo Pareek

Researchers develop blood test to spot early markers for dementia

Researchers in China have developed a blood test capable of predicting the risk of dementia more than a decade before its clinical diagnosis.

The study, published in Nature Aging, identified biological markers for dementia in blood samples obtained from over 50,000 healthy volunteers participating in the UK Biobank project.

Researchers took blood samples from 52,645 UK adults without dementia, froze them between 2006 and 2010, and analysed them 10 to 15 years later. Among them, over 1,400 participants later developed dementia.

Dementia is a progressive decline in cognitive function affecting memory, thinking, and behaviour.

"Dementia progresses slowly from the asymptomatic stage to a fully expressed clinical syndrome over many years. Because no effective therapy is currently available, correctly determining whether a person will progress to dementia in the near future has become a public health priority," read the study, conducted at Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University in China, among other facilities.

According to the study, blood analysis of participants revealed patterns of four proteins indicating the onset of dementia, including Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, in older adults.

Combined with traditional risk factors, the approach predicted dementia with 90 per cent accuracy, nearly 15 years in advance, researchers claimed.

"We aim to develop this into a screening kit for NHS (National Health Service) use," Prof Jianfeng Feng, affiliated with the University of Warwick and Fudan University in China, told The Guardian.

Early confirmation of Alzheimer's is crucial for potential benefits from new drugs like lecanemab and donanemab, pending UK regulatory approval. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence will assess their cost-effectiveness for NHS use, the paper said.

Patients must have early-stage Alzheimer's confirmed to receive these drugs targeting amyloid protein, a hallmark of the disease.

Efforts are underway to create and introduce easy blood tests for Alzheimer's diagnosis. Despite swift diagnosis, challenges persist. The new drugs require biweekly infusions, and due to possible severe side effects, patients need regular MRI scans to monitor brain health.

Dr Sheona Scales, the director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said, "This new study adds to the growing body of evidence that looking at levels of certain proteins in the blood of healthy people could accurately predict dementia before symptoms develop."

She emphasised the necessity for further studies to gauge the effectiveness of such tests in diverse populations. "Even when tests show promise in studies like this, they still need to go through regulatory approval before they can be used in a health care setting."


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