Josie Jakovac

Alzheimer’s disease now detectable before symptoms arise

Due to the results of a pioneering blood test, the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease is now able to be detected long before the symptoms emerge.

 

 

If you were offered a glimpse into your future health, a chance to minimise the unknown and prepare yourself for the inevitable, would you take it? Or would you rather live in blissful oblivion, without the burden of dread and its oft inseparable companion: helplessness?

Nature, an International Journal of Science, has recently published the results of the world’s first test that can accurately detect the presence of Alzheimer’s disease two decades before symptoms surface. Devised by a team of Australian and Japanese Neuroscientists, this ground-breaking discovery uses high-performance plasma biomarkers that detect the build-up of amyloid-Beta (a common indicator of Alzheimer’s) in a patient’s brain.

But how does this process actually work?

Let’s break it down:

  • Deposits of amyloid-ß – a peptide, or small chain of 36-43 amino acids in the brain are the only known way of identifying the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • In an Alzheimer’s patient, these sticky protein pieces clump together to form plaques which are thought to block cell-to-cell signalling at synapses (ie: block neuro-signal transmission). This is what is believed to hamper memory, learning and other important neuro functions.
  • To detect the presence of amyloid-ß, thus to predict whether these plaques are likely to form in the foreseeable future, the test uses highly specialised mass spectrometry & immunoprecipitation of blood samples.
  • Essentially this means first isolating, or displacing, a protein (amyloid-ß) from the blood sample using a binding substance (an antibody).
  • A few electrons are then removed from the protein, making it positively charged. This is called peptide ionisation.
  • The amyloid-ß is then accelerated & deflected by magnetic fields. The larger the deflection, lighter the protein’s mass.
  • This data is processed electronically, thus denoting how much amyloid-ß is contained in a sample of blood. Comparing this result to a table of standards is then able to accurately determine the likelihood of a person being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

 

Professor Colin Masters from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health states that ‘The performance of the blood test is so good, it has an accuracy of approximately 90 percent’ – the results are based on a study involving 252 Australian and 121 Japanese patients. To put it in perspective, this blood sampling initiative first began in 2006.

Due to such unprecedented success, the test is likely to become a global standard. So perhaps it’s time to change your mind before it changes you.

 

 

Josie Jakovac

Josie Jakovac is studying B Commerce (Dalyell Scholars)/B Laws at the University of Sydney. With a big mouth, a passion for people and a love for current affairs, she’s never one to shy away from a lively debate. When she’s not sipping coffee, mulling over textbooks and rapidly typing up her next article, you’ll find her beach-hopping and making music.

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