Newly discovered biomarkers may lead to promising diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's

July 28, 2017 by Misti Crane
Diagram of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's Disease. Credit: Wikipedia/public domain.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease and determining a patient's prognosis is an inexact business, and that stands in the way of better personalized care and advances in treatment.

A new study from The Ohio State University has identified a potential new way of confirming the disease and predicting a patient's outlook.

First, the team of researchers discovered new physical biomarkers that could help pinpoint a diagnosis - changes to proteins found in the spinal fluid and blood of patients. In particular, as Alzheimer's severity increased, the proteins were longer, more rigid and more clustered, said lead researcher Mingjun Zhang, a professor of biomedical engineering at Ohio State.

After finding these new clues to the disease, the research team entered information about the biomarkers and several other factors - including scores from cognitive assessments of patients - into an algorithm designed to rate the severity of illness.

The researchers found that the equation could identify disease stages and progression.

"With a tool like this you may predict how fast this disease will go, and currently we can't do that - we just know everyone is different," Zhang said. "Looking at multiple indicators of the disease all at once increases the reliability of the diagnosis and prognosis."

The research appears in the journal Science Advances.

The information used in the study came from a database of medical information - and samples of spinal fluid and blood - from patients seen by study co-author Douglas Scharre, a professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry in the Neurological Institute at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center.

The experimental tools aren't ready for clinical use yet, but could lead to improvements in treatment in multiple ways, Scharre said.

"It was fairly easy to see changes between normal aging and different stages of Alzheimer's disease using these biomarkers, and to see significant changes," he said.

Currently available medications treat only symptoms of the disease and work best with an early diagnosis. Improved diagnostic tools could help doctors sort out more quickly which patients have Alzheimer's disease and which are experiencing cognitive decline for other reasons, Scharre said.

Early evidence from tests of experimental drugs designed to alter the disease indicate that they would work best in the early stages as well, he said.

And, ideally, these biomarkers and algorithm - or something similar - could speed up discovery of new treatments to improve the outlook for those with later stages of Alzheimer's disease. Having an easily observable that changes quickly over time would be a powerful tool for those trying to monitor the impact of their experimental treatments, Scharre said.

"A biomarker that shows that in three months, or three weeks even, that this drug is not doing a darn thing or is slowing down the disease will help us to not waste time in finding better treatments," he said.

Zhang said doctors treating patients with Alzheimer's disease already try to take a number of factors about a given patient to estimate disease and to predict how quickly the disease will move.

"We've taken what they do and converted it to a computational model with different weights for different factors," Zhang said. "We're using engineering techniques to look at a human disease process, a dynamic process."

Looking for physical changes in proteins is a growing area of interest for those seeking disease biomarkers, said Jeff Kuret, a study co-author and professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology at Ohio State.

"The goal is to have a sensitive test that could be applied at the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and would not be too expensive," Kuret said.

The study authors said it's too soon to estimate how much tools such as this would cost if they were developed for routine use, but said that identifying a blood test - rather than one that relies on spinal fluid - would be key to minimizing risks and costs.

Kuret said this kind of test is especially promising for Alzheimer's because it's a relatively slow-moving illness and one in which the ability to determine stages of disease could lead to better, more personalized treatments down the road.

"To be able to follow individual patients from pre-symptomatic through all stages of Alzheimer's progression would be incredibly helpful," he said.

Explore further: Rate of Alzheimer's deaths on the rise

More information: "Computational integration of nanoscale physical biomarkers and cognitive assessments for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and prognosis" Science Advances (2017). advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700669

Related Stories

Rate of Alzheimer's deaths on the rise

June 15, 2017
The rate of death from Alzheimer's disease in the United States increased by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Detecting Alzheimer's disease before symptoms emerge

May 31, 2017
Long before symptoms of Alzheimer's disease become apparent to patients and their families, biological changes are occurring within the brain. Amyloid plaques, which are clusters of protein fragments, along with tangles of ...

Team develops blood test that detects early Alzheimer's disease

June 8, 2016
A research team, led by Dr. Robert Nagele from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and Durin Technologies, Inc., has announced the development of a blood test that leverages the body's immune response system to ...

Potential diagnostic test for Alzheimer's would use cerebrospinal fluid

April 26, 2011
Researchers at the University of Kentucky are working on a potential diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease, based on biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid.

Trial helps doctors tell Lewy body dementia from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

September 21, 2016
Knowing that many clinicians find it difficult to correctly diagnose patients with Lewy body dementia, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center set out to develop a clinical profile for these patients. ...

Recommended for you

Alzheimer's Tau protein forms toxic complexes with cell membranes

November 22, 2017
The brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease contain characteristic tangles inside neurons. These tangles are formed when a protein called Tau aggregates into twisted fibrils. As a result, the neurons' transport systems ...

Researchers reveal new details on aged brain, Alzheimer's and dementia

November 21, 2017
In a comprehensive analysis of samples from 107 aged human brains, researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, UW Medicine and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute have discovered details that ...

Dementia study sheds light on how damage spreads through brain

November 20, 2017
Insights into how a key chemical disrupts brain cells in a common type of dementia have been revealed by scientists.

Researchers describe new biology of Alzheimer's disease

November 20, 2017
In a new study, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) describe a unique model for the biology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) which may lead to an entirely novel approach for treating the disease. The findings ...

Study shows video games could cut dementia risk in seniors

November 16, 2017
Could playing video games help keep the brain agile as we age?

New player in Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis identified

November 14, 2017
Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have shown that a protein called membralin is critical for keeping Alzheimer's disease pathology in check. The study, published in Nature Communications, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.