New blood test can help detect Alzheimer’s disease in presymptomatic patients


Using current techniques, Alzheimer’s disease, the most frequent cause of dementia, can only be detected once the typical plaques have formed in the brain.

At this point, therapy seems no longer possible.

However, the first changes caused by Alzheimer’s take place on the protein level up to 20 years sooner.

A two-tier method developed at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) can help detect the disease at a much earlier stage.

The researchers from Bochum published their report in the March 2019 edition of the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring.

“This has paved the way for early-stage therapy approaches, where the as yet inefficient drugs on which we had pinned our hopes may prove effective,” says Professor Klaus Gerwert from the Department of Biophysics at RUB.

Protein folds incorrectly

In Alzheimer’s patients, the amyloid beta protein folds incorrectly due to pathological changes long before the first symptoms occur.

A team of researchers headed by Klaus Gerwert successfully diagnosed this misfolding using a simple blood test; as a result, the disease can be detected approximately eight years before the first clinical symptoms occur.

The test wasn’t suitable for clinical applications, however: it did detect 71 per cent of Alzheimer’s cases in symptomless stages, but at the same time provided false positive diagnoses for nine per cent of the study participants.

In order to increase the number of correctly identified Alzheimer’s cases and to reduce the number of false positive diagnoses, the researchers poured a lot of time and effort into optimising the test.

Second biomarker

Large image of Fig. 2.

Procedure of the two-step AD recruitment strategy. In step 1, the structure-based biomarker was analyzed in blood plasma of 61 DC and 39 AD patients by the immuno-infrared sensor. As a result, 37 true-negatives (TN), 4 false-negatives (FN), 35 true-positives (TP), and 24 false-positives (FP) were identified in step 1 (sensitivity 90%, specificity 61%). In step 2, CSF of positive-tested individuals was analyzed regarding the Aβ and tau secondary structure distribution. Therewith, AD diagnosis could be confirmed in 34 of 35 cases. On the other hand, FP could be excluded in 22 of 24 cases, thus only two FP remained (sensitivity 97%, specificity 92%). This yielded in an overall sensitivity of 87% and a specificity of 97%.

As a result, they have now introduced the two-tier diagnostic method.

To this end, they use the original blood test to identify high-risk individuals.

Subsequently, they add a dementia-specific biomarker, namely tau protein, to run further tests with those test participants whose Alzheimer’s diagnosis was positive in the first step.

If both biomarkers show a positive result, there is a high likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Through the combination of both analyses, 87 of 100 Alzheimer’s patients were correctly identified in our study,” summarises Klaus Gerwert.

“And we reduced the number of false positive diagnoses in healthy subjects to 3 of 100.

The second analysis is carried out in cerebrospinal fluid that is extracted from the spinal cord.

“Now, new clinical studies with test participants in very early stages of the disease can be launched,” points out Gerwert.

He is hoping that the existing therapeutic antibodies will still have an effect.

“Recently, two major promising studies have failed, especially Crenezumab and Aducanumab – not least because it had probably already been too late by the time therapy was taken up.

The new test opens up a new therapy window.”

This shows someone carrying out a blood sample analysis

As a result, they have now introduced the two-tier diagnostic method.

To this end, they use the original blood test to identify high-risk individuals.

The image is in the public domain.

“Once amyloid plaques have formed, it seems that the disease can no longer be treated,” says Dr. Andreas Nabers, head of the research group and co-developer of the Alzheimer’s sensor.

“If our attempts to arrest the progression of Alzheimer’s fail, it will put a lot of strain on our society.”

Immagine correlata

Amyloid Plaques
One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of amyloid plaques between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Amyloid is a general term for protein fragments that the body produces normally. Beta amyloid is a protein fragment snipped from an amyloid precursor protein (APP). In a healthy brain, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. In Alzheimer’s disease, the fragments accumulate to form hard, insoluble plaques.

Sensor test is simple and robust

The blood test has been upgraded to a fully automated process at the RUB Department of Biophysics.

“The sensor is easy to use, robust when it comes to fluctuation in concentration of biomarkers, and standardised,” explains Andreas Nabers.

“We are now conducting in-depth research to detect the second biomarker, namely tau protein, in the blood, in order to supply a solely blood-based test in future,” concludes Klaus Gerwert.

Media Contacts: 
Klaus Gerwert – RUB
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“Aβ and tau structure-based biomarkers for a blood- and CSF-based two-step recruitment strategy to identify patients with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease”. Andreas Nabers, Henning Hafermann, Jens Wiltfang, Klaus Gerwert.
Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring. doi:10.1016/j.dadm.2019.01.008


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