Alzheimer's could one day be identified YEARS before symptoms appear

Alzheimer’s disease could soon be identified YEARS before symptoms appear after scientists discover previously unseen blood biomarkers

  • Tiny biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease are present in the blood of sufferers 
  • A new nanotechnology technique is able to detect these in the blood 
  • The method could allow for future tests to be developed which could allow for diagnosis of Alzheimer’s before symptoms emerge 

Chemicals in blood have been discovered which could one day be used to test for Alzheimer’s before a person develops symptoms.

Academics developed a technique which is able to spot disease biomarkers which are created during neurodegeneration — the breakdown of neurons in the brain — which happens in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. 

Tiny spheres called liposomes were repurposed to latch onto the proteins in the blood of mice, in a process the researchers compared to fishing.

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed with brain scans after symptoms emerge. But the researchers behind the new study say their method proves future tests could be developed which spot signs of disease before symptoms emerge

Treatment that extends lifespan by 9% and prevents Alzheimer’s is made by scientists 

A genetic treatment has been developed that leads to fruit flies living as much as nine per cent longer.

Two therapies were created which each target a protein and they both were found to stave off signs of Alzheimer’s as well as elongating healthy lifespan.

While the findings raise the possibility of replicating the treatments in humans, such genetic therapies are currently prohibited on ethical grounds, despite an ongoing debate about potential benefits. 

Researchers from UCL altered the genetics of fruit flies — a common animal in lab studies — with extra chunks of DNA inserted into their genome. 

These alterations were specifically designed to promote expression of genes responsible for the production of two proteins.

Overexpression led to enhanced healthy lifespan of 8.8 and 6.6 per cent. 

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed with brain scans after someone experiences behavioural symptoms, such as memory impairment. 

But the researchers behind the new study say their method proves future tests could be developed which spot signs of disease before symptoms emerge. 

The tests would also be relatively swift and hassle-free, they claim.

Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s have long been thought to be present in a person’s blood, but they are in such small quantities that they are undetectable with current methods. 

Blood biomarkers have been found of other diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. 

The University of Manchester scientists turned to nanotechnology — which specialises in the ultra-small scale — to find the Alzheimer’s biomarkers.  

Dr Marilena Hadjidemetriou, lead researcher of the study, said: ‘Hidden information in blood is likely to echo the complex cascade of events occurring in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

‘We wanted to engineer a nanotechnology blood-mining platform in order to uncover this information and identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease at the pre-disease state – before the onset of amyloid plaque formation in the brain.’

Amyloid plaques are clumps of protein fragments which are toxic to nerve cells and are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Researchers employed nanotechnology in order to enhance the sensitivity of mass spectrometry, a technique used to analyse the patterns of proteins in blood.

A breathalyser that detects early warning signs of chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer is being created by scientists after the development of a new sensor.  

Researchers successfully created a material called a ‘nanoparticle scaffold’ which is made of tiny pieces of metal and semiconductors — all thousands of times smaller than a human hair — that are integrated into a small and highly-sensitive sensor.   

These will be fitted into handheld devices, similar to what the police use to test drunk drivers, to detect signs of disease in a person’s breath, scientists say. 

This proof-of-concept study is now being taken to the next stage and a prototype is currently being built.   

They used tiny nano-sized spheres, called liposomes, as a tool to fish out the disease-specific proteins from blood.

When injected in mice with Alzheimer’s, nanoparticles spontaneously picked up hundreds of neurodegeneration-associated proteins onto their surfaces.

These were then retrieved intact from blood circulation and the molecular signatures on their surface were analysed.

Kostas Kostarelos, professor of nanomedicine said: ‘This study was rather like a fishing expedition – we didn’t know what was beneath the surface of the ocean.

‘The nano-tool we developed allowed us to see deeper into the blood proteome, identifying proteins of interest that are directly associated with neurodegeneration processes in the brain, among thousands of other blood-circulating molecules.

‘We hope that these early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease could one day be developed into a blood test and we are actively seeking validation of these signatures in human blood.’

Professor Nigel Hooper, associate vice-president for research and director of dementia research at the University of Manchester said: ‘The technology developed opens up new possibilities for the development of novel multi-analyte blood tests to predict the onset and development of a wide range of neurodegenerative disorders.’

The study, published in ACS Nano, was funded by the Medical Research Council.

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