A combination of proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid can reliably identify which patients with early symptoms of dementia will subsequently develop full-blown Alzheimer's disease, a research team at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has found in a major international study. The results were published in this week's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Alzheimer's is one of the most common dementia disorders. Around 160,000 people in Sweden currently suffer from dementia, and an estimated 60 per cent of them have Alzheimer's.
"There is currently no medication that can alter the course of the disease, but the medicines currently under development will probably have the greatest effect if they are used from an early stage, so methods are needed for early diagnosis of the disease," says Dr Niklas Mattsson, a member of Kaj Blennow's group at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy.
Changes in the brain are reflected in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the form of biomarkers. Previous smaller studies have shown that the proteins beta-amyloid, tau and phosphorylated tau in the CSF can be used to make an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
Now Mattsson and colleagues at hospitals in Sweden, elsewhere in Europe and the USA have confirmed this in a large multicentre study with more than 1,500 participants.
"These methods make it easier to identify the disease, which is essential for making a correct diagnosis early on," he says. "These biomarkers may be useful both in research to develop new medicines and in point-of-care diagnostics, where they can support clinical diagnostics."
So when will we see new medicines?
"I'm reluctant to speculate, but there is a lot of exciting research under way, and new medicines are under development."
The results were published on 21 July in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.