Alzheimer’s disease predominantly affects people of an older age. However new research suggests that signs of Alzheimer’s can be seen up to 25 years before the expected onset of the disease.
Scientist have been studying families with a genetic risk of the disease. 128 people were studies, all with a 50% chance of inheriting one of three mutations that will cause the disease Alzheimer’s. The genetic form of Alzheimer’s will normally hit much earlier, 30’s – 40’s, than the more general form which affects people in their 60’s.
The experiment used blood, spinal fluid, brain scans and mental ability tests to determine a timeline of the unseen progress of Alzheimer’s disease. The earliest observed change was a drop in spinal fluid; this went on to cause the formation of plaques. This feature could be detected up to 25 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s. 15 years before onset, the experimenters observed increased levels of TAU in the spinal fluid and shrinkage of different parts of the brain. At 10 years before onset the brain changes its use of glucose and slight memory problems start to occur. The test group were compared to other members of the family without the inherited mutations – in this group no changes were observed. Finally these findings could be similar in non-genetic Alzheimer’s because the changes seen in the two diseases are very similar.
These findings have major implications for the treatment and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. If Alzheimer’s can be spotted early its treatment and management can be much more effectively controlled, Therefore improving the chances of success. This would mean access to care and existing treatments would be given far sooner.
From a pharmaceutical point of view newly developed drugs can be trailed on the right people at the right time, therefore allowing treatment to become more preventative. This discovery also has major implications for diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, we can now detect it much earlier on using a predefined set of diagnostic determinants. How do you think this will change our diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s? Could we now see a plethora of new drugs now being developed? Could this be the same for other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s?
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