A Dutch-German research team has developed a test that can predict whether someone is at risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease. The ability to determine at an early stage the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease offers prospects for the development of more effective drug treatments. Innovation Origins already reported on this project back in February last year. The test is now ready to be put into practice.

Up until now it has not been possible to detect the disease at a very early stage. Alzheimer’s disease is also not yet curable or treatable. Only the effects can be mitigated with medication.

“Our results in clinical trials clearly show that Alzheimer’s drugs are currently being administered too late,” says Klaus Gerwert. “No wonder that past medications have always failed.”

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    Accurate prediction

    The researchers studied people who clinically speaking are not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but who consider themselves ‘cognitively handicapped’ (Subjective Cognitive Declined, SCD). They analyzed blood samples from a group of people with SCD who were being monitored at the Dutch Amsterdam AMC hospital. With the help of a so-called Immuno-Infrared Sensor developed at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB. Germany), they were able to identify all 22 test subjects who developed Alzheimer’s disease six years later, or who were affected by ‘Mild Cognitive Impairment’, a precursor of this disease. The test also showed which subjects had a very low risk of developing dementia later on.

    For the research, the team worked under the supervision of biophysics professor Dr. Klaus Gerwert and Julia Stockmann of the Bochum Research Center for Protein Diagnostics (Prodi) together with RUB statistician Prof. Dr. Nina Timmesfeld from the Department of Medical Informatics, Biometrics and Epidemiology, and researchers from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam under the direction of Prof. Dr. Charlotte Teunissen and Prof. Dr. Philip Scheltens.

    Wrongly folded protein

    At the start of the study, the scientists took blood samples from 203 people. They analyzed these with an immuno-infrared sensor. This sensor is capable of detecting an incorrect folding of the amyloid beta (Aβ) peptide that is relevant to Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, the test subjects underwent a detailed diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease.

    None of the test subjects that were studied were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the outset of the study. By contrast, the immuno-infrared sensor detected incorrectly folded Aβ peptides in 22 test subjects and hence an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. All of these people developed the disease over the course of the next six years. Subjects who showed a slight misfolding took on average longer (3.4 years) to become ill compared to subjects with a severe Aβ misfolding (2.2 years).

    In collaboration with statistician Nina Timmesfeld, the researchers have developed a model to predict the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to the model, SCD subjects with slight misfolding have an 11-fold higher risk and SCD subjects with severe misfolding have a 19-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease within the next six years than subjects without a misfolding Aβ-peptide. “The misfolding of Aβ is therefore a very precise prognostic plasma biomarker,” Klaus Gerwert concludes.

    Risk can be very accurately predictable

    “With a simple blood test we can now very accurately predict the risk of Alzheimer’s disease developing at some point in the future,” explains Klaus Gerwert. “This means that at the same time we can also reassure older people that they only have a very low chance of developing Alzheimer’s over the next six years.”

    The American Food and Drug Administration will decide in March of this year whether to approve the Aducanumab drug.

    You can read more IO articles on Alzheimer’s disease via this link.

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Arnoud Cornelissen has for many years been writing about science and technology in, among others, various Dutch newspapers.