Irish researchers have developed a new blood test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.
The team from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RSCI) say it can also predict how the disease will progress.
The study has shown that concentration changes of a small molecule in the blood can diagnose the disease at a stage when other symptoms are mild.
It says: "Early diagnosis holds the best opportunity for potential future treatments of the disease and improving the quality of life for patients with Alzheimer's".
This multi-centre study was carried out by academics and clinicians from Ireland and Spain.
Dr Tobias Engel, physiology lecturer in physiology at the RCSI and principal investigator on the project, says: "People are living longer today and because of this the incidence of age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s will rise.
"Research into the condition is largely focused on the development of new therapies, however, new therapies need diagnostic methods which are affordable and minimally invasive and can be used to screen large populations.
"Our research carried out over the past four years has identified changes in blood levels of a small molecule called microRNA - which is able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at a very early stage and is able to distinguish Alzheimer’s from brain diseases with similar symptoms".
Alzheimer’s disease affects 48 million people worldwide and an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 in Ireland.
This has with an associated cost of up to €400m per year to the health care system.
No new therapy has passed clinical trials in 20 years - with the RSCI suggesting that much of the failure in clinical trials "has been attributed to application of therapies at advanced stages of Alzheimer’s where damage to the brain becomes irreversible".
It adds: "For treatments to be successful, the early stages preceding the full onset of Alzheimer’s need to be targeted. At present there is no blood test available to clinicians that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease."
This work was supported by funding from Science Foundation Ireland under the COEN initiative (NEUROmiR) and RCSI under the Strategic Academic Recruitment (StAR) Programme.
The findings are being presented at RCSI’s annual Research Day, which takes place on Wednesday in Dublin.