The elderly population worldwide is increasing, causing growing concern for age-related diseases like dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia that is particularly concerning, as age is a well-known risk factor. Unfortunately, diagnosis of Alzheimer’s often happens after memory problems or other symptoms appear, indicating that the disease has been progressing for several years. This highlights the urgent need to develop a non-invasive way of obtaining an earlier diagnosis. One current aspiration is the development of a blood assay that can be used to screen for Alzheimer’s disease in the general population, or determine one’s risk of developing it, which could perhaps be a component of physical health check visits.

A team from Shanghai recently took a significant step towards developing a blood test that can screen for Alzheimer’s, which would provide an early diagnosis before symptoms manifest. In their study, the authors analyzed over 50,000 blood samples from healthy adults, including 1,417 who had been diagnosed with dementia in the last 14 years. They discovered that high levels of four specific proteins – GFAP, NEFL, GDF15, and LTBP2 – were strongly linked to dementia. Moreover, these proteins were abnormally elevated in the blood ten years before the people who developed dementia first began showing symptoms.

The presented research has therefore identified very promising biomarkers to include in a blood-based screening method for Alzheimer’s. These biomarkers could lead to earlier diagnoses, thereby allowing for early intervention—all of which would be transformative both in the clinic and for public health.

This study was led by Yu Guo, Jia You, and Yi Zhang, researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. 

Managing Correspondent: Marwa Osman

Original Journal Article: Plasma proteomic profiles predict future dementia in healthy adults (Nature Aging

Press article: Early dementia diagnosis: blood proteins reveal at-risk people (Nature Briefing)

Image Credit: Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

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