Korean researchers develop blood test technology to predict Alzheimer’s
Researchers in South Korea have developed a new technology that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease before the physical symptoms start to show, paving the way for early diagnosis and treatment planning.
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive dementia. It is a progressive disease without a cure, and dementia symptoms worsen over time.
Scientists do not have a clear answer yet as to what causes Alzheimer’s, but beta-amyloid plaques — the sticky buildup of proteins that accumulate outside nerve cells — are said to be one cause.
At the moment, amyloid positron emission tomography scans of the brain — pricey, high-end brain scans — are used to detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s in living patients.
However, a research team from Seoul National University has developed a technology that can produce similar diagnostics results with a simple blood test, the Ministry of Science and ICT said Tuesday.
The technology was licensed to Korean biotech company Medifron DBT for 130 million won ($115,200), as well as published in the academic journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, according to the ministry.
Though there is a high correlation between beta-amyloid levels in the bloodstream and amyloid plaque buildup in the brain, the former had been an unstable biomarker as elements in the blood naturally break down proteins.
Targeting this aspect, the SNU research team developed a blood processing technology that prevents the amyloids from being broken down in the blood, stabilizing their presence.
By leveraging technology, the team said that amyloid levels detected in the blood matched with amyloid buildup detected via a PET scan 90 percent of the time, a high accuracy.
“While most Alzheimer’s diagnostics technologies identify the disease in patients with clearly visible symptoms, our technology can predict Alzheimer’s even when a person is not showing symptoms,” said SNU professor Mook In-hee, who led the development of the technology.
The team also discovered beta-amyloids accumulating in the brains of patients who were not determined to have Alzheimer’s according to cognitive tests.
Looking ahead, SNU and Medifron DBT are preparing to co-develop an Alzheimer’s diagnostics kit and computing algorithm to bring the technology to the market.
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