Through a simple blood test, doctors can identify that a certain cholesterol level means you are at a higher risk of heart attack and consequently offer you preventative treatments.
Imagine if we could do the same for Alzheimer’s disease?
Researchers from the University of Southern California are one step closer to making this a reality, after finding that elevated levels of amyloid plaques in the brain are associated with cognitive decline.
You might be thinking this is nothing new, and that you’ve heard this all before. But the main reason this result is noteworthy is because all participants were considered cognitively healthy at the start of the study. As such, researchers believe they are now closer to being able to identify if a person is at risk of dementia in later life based on their current amyloid plaque levels and thus develop preventative treatments which could slow down or even halt the progression of the disease.
Lead researcher on the study, Associate Professor Michael Donohue, said this aims to support the concept that ‘disease starts before symptoms’, which lays the groundwork for conducting early interventions.
“We’ve learned that intervening before the heart attack is a much more powerful approach to treating the problem,” Associate Professor Donohue said.
During this study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research team measured the amyloid levels of 445 cognitively normal people in the USA and Canada.
They did this via two methods – collecting cerebrospinal fluid (which is considered invasive and requires a medical procedure) and undertaking a brain PET scan (which is less invasive, but expensive).
The results found that 242 of the participants had ‘normal’ amyloid levels, while 202 participants had ‘elevated’ amyloid levels.
Delving into this further, the researchers noted those who had elevated amyloid levels were also likely to have lower cognitive scores and thus a higher likelihood of cognitive decline.
Unfortunately, the findings were not as clear cut as had been hoped and the researchers still need to assess the clinical importance of these amyloid differences and measure longer-term associations.
However, the study does add to a growing body of evidence that has noted removing amyloid or lowering amyloid levels at the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease may slow the onset or even stop it – and this is a positive step in the right direction for future treatment developments.
You can read the original study by clicking here.