Brain protein could serve as biomarker for Alzheimer's

Friday, 05 March, 2021

Brain protein could serve as biomarker for Alzheimer's

A unique brain protein measured in the blood could be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease decades before symptoms develop, according to new research led by Edith Cowan University (ECU) and published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain condition that can develop silently over many years, leading to memory decline and loss of thinking skills. Current diagnosis involves a brain scan or spinal fluid tests, but ECU Professor Ralph Martins said the blood biomarker offers a promising new avenue for early diagnosis.

“The current brain imaging and lumbar puncture tests are expensive and invasive, and not widely available to the general population,” he said. “A blood test could open up possibilities for early diagnosis of millions of people and thereby enable earlier interventions.”

The ECU study involved 100 Australians aged between 65 and 90 years of age with no symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It found that people with elevated glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in the blood also have increased amyloid beta in the brain, a known indicator of the disease. GFAP is a protein normally found in the brain, but it is released into the blood when the brain is damaged by early Alzheimer’s disease.

“Blood biomarkers are becoming an exciting alternative to the existing expensive and invasive methods of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease,” Prof Martins said.

“The GFAP biomarker could be used to develop a simple and quick blood test to detect if a person is at very high risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”

Prof Martins said the development of an early blood test will be revolutionary, and that we can expect to see diagnostic blood tests being used for Alzheimer’s in the next few years. He does, however, acknowledge that further research is needed to understand the role of GFAP in Alzheimer’s disease.

“Longitudinal studies will provide more insight into how GFAP relates to the progression of Alzheimer’s, which may allow us to determine when symptoms will emerge,” he said.

Prof Martins is also part of a large study exploring interventions for Alzheimer’s disease, with the ultimate goal of finding medications and lifestyle factors that can halt or delay the development of the disease.

“Diagnosis and intervention techniques go hand in hand — if we can use blood biomarkers to detect Alzheimer’s sooner, we can also intervene sooner,” he said.

Image credit: © Danti

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