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The hunt for a simple blood test to detect Alzheimer's disease

Lisa M. Krieger, The Mercury News on

Published in Health & Fitness

“Our big leap was to detect these small molecules with very low concentrations in plasma,” said Rojas-Martinez. The new tests “are 1,000 times more sensitive. That’s what makes this enterprise possible.”

The most immediate application is for research. If patients can be identified quickly and easily, it would lower the cost of drug trials. Billions of dollars have been spent on designing treatments, with almost nothing to show for it.

“A blood test is so much more affordable, and more readily accepted,” said Edgerly.

Tests aren’t yet ready for general use. That’s because more work is needed to evaluate their performance in real-world clinical settings. And some clinicians question the prognostic value, noting that people may live with plaques in their brain and never develop symptoms.

Furthermore, analysis is technically challenging. It requires a mass spectrometer and other specialized equipment. Blood samples need rapid centrifugation and freezing, procedures that are beyond the current capabilities of most average laboratories. Collection techniques have to be standardized.

 

But companies are racing to create simpler, cheaper and easier tests that are fit for widespread clinical use. Some look for signs of amyloid; others, tau; still others, the ratio of the two.

The tests will continue to improve, said Rojas-Martinez. But until then, “our emphasis should be to provide care, helping the family prepare and plan for the future.”

For now, the test by C2N Diagnostics is the only one available, through an order by a physician. But at least eight other tests — by companies Quanterix, Roche, Eli Lilly, ADx, Shimadzu, MagQu, Janssen and Fujirebio — are in the pipeline.

“In the next year or so, a test could be readily available,” predicted Edgerly. “And that would be game-changing.”

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