Efforts to develop a treatment that stalls the memory-robbing devastation of Alzheimer’s disease have so far been unsuccessful, but scientists are making strides in another important area: the development of better tests to tell who has the condition.
Their aim is to develop more accurate, cheaper and less invasive tests to detect the biological markers of Alzheimer’s-induced changes in the brain.
At the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, scientists presented early but promising data on a new blood test and a novel brain imaging technique. They also unveiled preliminary data on a study to investigate the potential clinical usefulness of a test that’s already on the market but isn’t widely reimbursed by insurance.
Alzheimer’s is characterized by changes to the brain involving clumping of a protein called amyloid and another called tau — pathologies that until the last decade or so could only be seen upon autopsy.
The biomarker tests available to date focus primarily on detecting amyloid. These tests are generally used only for research purposes because they can be expensive or require special technology. They are meant to be used for ruling out Alzheimer’s in patients who already have memory problems.