Blood Test May Predict Alzheimer's Disease

And an easier means of early detection may also safeguard the health of those in the early stages of the disease. Wyss-Coray notes that Alzheimer's patients often "forget to take medications for other conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension," complications that may be avoided if caregivers are alerted early to the possibility of the condition.

Other physicians agree.

"This [early identification] should be advocated," said Dr. Rachelle Smith Doody, director of the Alzheimer's disease and memory disorders center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"It benefits patients to be given information on their condition and to go on therapy," she continued. "It prevents the patient from receiving contraindicated or unneeded therapies, and it helps the patient, family and clinician develop a management plan."

What's the Catch?

Although the benefits are plentiful, some experts cite caveats.

"The markers mentioned are not routine, and the assays are not universally available," Zabar said, noting his concern that the tests will be marketed at very high cost through a private laboratory.

Zabar adds that he also doubts whether insurance is likely to pay for it, a concern emanating from "what happened to spinal fluid biomarker tests in the past."

Wyss-Coray disagrees.

"The markers are not novel, and assays exist for them," he said.

He adds that the pharmaceutical company Satoris is already developing a kit that combines all of them in a simple assay and the "cost would be significantly lower than imaging."

Like Wyss-Coray, Petersen concurs that "this would be an inexpensive test."

Petersen, who agrees the test would likely be inexpensive, nonetheless points out a different drawback: The study will need to be replicated in larger samples to confirm that these tests are reliable.

Dr. Mark Tuszynski, director for the center for neural repair at the University of California, San Diego, agrees.

"Limitations are that the data are from a small sample set and will very much need to be replicated on a larger patient set," he said.

"But if this holds up on subsequent, larger analysis," Tuszynski added, "it could have significant public health implications on many, many levels."

Despite current limitations, Alzheimer's experts agree that this test could have significant positive implications in the future.

After all, Wyss-Coray noted, "there are a quarter of a million Alzheimer's patients per year who are not diagnosed."

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