New blood test effectively detects biomarker of Alzheimer's disease: Pitt study

Research scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine developed a blood test to successfully detect a biomarker specific to Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in Brain Dec. 27. 

This blood test is "cheaper, safer and easier to administer" than current diagnostics, Thomas Karikari, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt and senior author of the study, said in a Dec. 27 UPMC news release. 

Dr. Karikari's team developed an antibody to test "brain-derived tau," or BD-tau, a biomarker historically known to correlate with severe amyloid plaques and tau tangles found on autopsy — signs of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers concluded checking levels of BD-tau in blood samples from Alzheimer's disease patients could reliably differentiate between Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Current tests for Alzheimer's disease are based on guidelines set by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association in 2011. These guidelines require the presence of neurodegeneration in the brain, amyloid plaques and tau tangles, by imaging or cerebrospinal fluid analysis, to reliably diagnose Alzheimer's disease.

The practical limitations of these guidelines highlight the need for an easier way of detecting Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Karikari said.

"A blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer, and it can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer's and selecting participants for clinical trial and disease monitoring," he said. "The most important utility of blood biomarkers is to make people's lives better and to improve clinical confidence and risk prediction in Alzheimer's disease diagnosis."

The study included more than 600 patient samples from five cohorts — from patients presenting with early-stage Alzheimer's indicated by memory deficit to people whose autopsies confirmed Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists hope that monitoring blood levels of BD-tau will improve clinical trial design and facilitate screening and enrollment of patients from populations that historically haven't been included in research cohorts.

"There is a huge need for diversity in clinical research, not just by skin color but also by socioeconomic background," Dr. Karikari said. "To develop better drugs, trials need to enroll people from varied backgrounds and not just those who live close to academic medical centers."

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