Blood test breakthrough could eventually lead to cure

The ABC reports on a new blood test breakthrough that could eventually lead to a cure. Listen to the original broadcast here:

or read the extract below.

MARK COLVIN: There’s hope for a new breakthrough in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

British scientists say they’ve developed a blood test to predict the onset of the disease in people with mild memory problems. They say it’s almost 90 per cent accurate.

Louise Crealy reports.

LOUISE CREALY: It’s a disease where many trials for a cure have ended in failure. Now, a breakthrough.

CHRIS HATHERLY: The holy grail of Alzheimer’s disease research over the last few years has been trying to come up with a blood test.

LOUISE CREALY: British scientists say they’ve developed a blood test for people with failing memory that can predict with an accuracy of 87 per cent the onset of Alzheimer’s in the next 12 months.

Chris Hatherly from Alzheimer’s Australia says the test would be a great, cheaper alternative to current expensive brain scans or the invasive analysis of spinal fluid.

But it’s also important because it detects the condition at a much earlier stage, before the brain is badly damaged.

CHRIS HATHERLY: People who have the earliest signs of memory loss could potentially go along to their doctor, have this blood test as a screening test which would tell the doctor whether or not Alzheimer’s disease was likely to be a cause of the symptoms.

And if it did look likely to be Alzheimer’s disease and if that was confirmed through further testing, then there’d be things that those people could do to try and either plan ahead for the future or to try and slow down the progression of the disease.

Things like lots of physical exercise, a healthy diet, cutting out junk food and basically learning new things, keeping the brain very active and engaged.

LOUISE CREALY: But the study is not without its ethical issues:

CHRIS HATHERLY: We certainly wouldn’t want to do it across the population, but when people have some concerns about early symptoms.

LOUISE CREALY: But while these scientists are not talking about curing or reversing the disease, early detection would a significant step forward.

CHRIS HATHERLY: What it would allow, if we could pick up people with a blood test at an early stage of the disease, would let researchers working on the drug trials, the clinical trials, to actually get people in at a very early stage and hopefully develop some new drugs that might actually be beneficial and potentially, one day, even cure Alzheimer’s disease.

LOUISE CREALY: Dr Alan Rembach from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health agrees these recent findings are significant.

ALAN REMBACH: So the ultimate goal of this research, really, is to identify people who are pre-clinically diagnosed or pre-clinically at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Because we now know that there are therapies that are useful in Alzheimer’s disease but the therapeutic window of opportunity is probably a lot earlier, because now evidence from research that we’re doing here in Australia suggests that there’s several decades before the changes that are occurring in the brain can manifest as clinical symptoms.

LOUISE CREALY: Australia is one of the world leaders in Alzheimer’s research and Dr Rembach says this breakthrough adds to already promising data.

ALAN REMBACH: It now corroborates some of the other findings that we’ve seen and some of the other reported findings. And that’s what’s great about it: is that if we have more groups around the world all collaborating and to study this heterogeneous disease, now we’re sort of using technology but also collaborative and sort of globalisation to help us to find a cure for this disease

LOUISE CREALY: But it could still be some years before the study’s results are mainstream.

ALAN REMBACH: We think that there will be a high-throughput test that will be available for communities within, I would say, five years.

We’re sort of muddling around a little bit in the dark, but we are getting much closer to that particular target where we can identify people who might be at risk of getting the disease.

MARK COLVIN: Dr Alan Rembach ending that report from Louise Crealy.

Louise Crealy reported this story on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 18:46:00