A simple blood test could be developed to predict Alzheimer’s disease up to a decade before symptoms appear, scientists claim.
Researchers in the UK have studied data from more than 100 sets of identical twins and identified a blood protein that may predict whether an individual will develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The authors, from King’s College London, say the study is the largest of its kind, as it measured more than 1,000 proteins simultaneously in the blood from more than 200 healthy people.
The protein in question – called MAPKAPK5 – was, on average, lower in individuals whose cognitive ability declined over a ten-year period.
The research is still at an early stage, but scientists hope that it might be developed into a test which flags up those who are at risk of developing dementia.
Experts have been trying for years to create a blood test for Alzheimer’s – often referred to as the ‘Holy Grail’ of dementia research.
Currently patients are only diagnosed with the disease when they start to lose their memory – and thousands are thought to be living without a diagnosis.
Brain scans have been shown to display visible signs of the disease before the onset of symptoms – but they are expensive.
Study author Dr Steven Kiddle, of King’s College London, said: “Although we are still searching for an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, what we do know is that prevention of the disease is likely to be more effective than trying to reverse it.
“The next step will be to replicate our finding in an independent study, and to confirm whether or not it is specific for Alzheimer’s disease, as this could lead to the development of a reliable blood test which would help clinicians identify suitable people for prevention trials.”
Dr Claire Steves, senior lecturer in twin research at King’s College London, added: “We’re very optimistic that our research has the potential to benefit the lives of those who don’t currently have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but are at risk of developing the disease.”