Inexpensive Alzheimer’s tests offer promise

Jul 22, 2014

By Karen Weintraub


To confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s today, a patient either needs a painful spinal tap or a costly brain image. But several detection tools under development offer the promise of at least ruling out Alzheimer’s easily and inexpensively in a doctor’s office.

In new research to be presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Denmark, scientists show progress developing detection methods that rely on the blood, sense of smell and protein build-up in the eyes. All have been tested in dozens to hundreds of patients.

“Those are now moving into the more serious realm,” said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. “So we’re very excited about this.”

Among people with mild memory problems, a reduced sense of smell effectively predicted who would go on to get Alzheimer’s, according to one study to be presented today. Also, older, healthy people were more likely to have memory declines if they scored lower on a smell test, said Davangere Devanand, a psychiatrist and director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Columbia University.

Other studies include one suggesting that a device the size of a desktop computer can detect Alzheimer’s by looking at the lens of a patient’s eye. Beta amyloid, a protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, is detectable in the lens, potentially before symptoms appear, said Paul Hartung, president and CEO of the Massachusetts-based company Cognoptix that is developing the device.

And in another study reported recently, researchers at King’s College London and UK proteomics company, Proteome Sciences, found that a panel of 10 proteins in the blood can help identify people with the brain shrinkage that is characteristic of mild memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

None of these tests is likely to be perfect predictors of Alzheimer’s, though, said Ralph Nixon, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Medical & Scientific Advisory Council, and a professor of psychiatry and cell biology at New York University School of Medicine. Everyone with Alzheimer’s has beta amyloid in their brain, but not everyone with beta amyloid buildup will develop Alzheimer’s, limiting the predictive ability of some of these tests.

3 comments on “Inexpensive Alzheimer’s tests offer promise

  • 1
    kiki5711 says:

    Pardon, my language, but all that research can just kiss my behind. To me, most of it is done just so they have a reason to get more funding for the next years useless project.
    Sometimes, the less you know, the better you’re of. For example, my doctor wanted me to take a gene test, because I had 2 cancers, and I asked him “what for”, I already know that I might get it again. He said to see if it will be passed down to my kids. DO YOU HEART THAT? What worse thing in the world can you do but plant a seed in the back of your child’s head that at 55, they will most likely get cancer because I did. SOOOO FREGN WRONG. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but with a subtle suggestion, there’s 50% chance of them more likely getting it, because I told them they they probably will. That is so irresponsible by the doctors it’s beyond my understanding. STUPID ASS HOLES

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  • Many cancers and other illnesses are treatable if detected before they become too advanced. Avoiding bad news does not prevent bad things from happening. Knowing that they are at high risk will encourage your children to be vigilant. (Although genetics were not a factor in my case, I am in good health today—and avoided chemo and radiation—because of regular screenings for breast cancer.) Why do you have such rage against those who are working to minimize suffering?

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  • I totally respect your right not to take this type of test. However, I & others would like to have this type of information. My mom recently passes away due to Alzheimer’s & (particularly given my age of 64) I’d like any additional information on what my odds might be. I realize it’s doubtful that a new test available any time soon will provide a diagnosis that’s 100% or even 85% accurate but I’m willing to use any info to help me decide how to plan my life. Being reminded how fragile life & health are might encourage some of us to accomplish more, spend more time w/family & friends, & take the trips that we’re interested in, before it’s too late.
    Four years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After I was successfully treated (I had no desire to inform family before all treatment was done, one reason being that I’d have to hear them tell me they were praying for me) & a year after informing my brothers & their kids a niece was diagnosed with a less pernicious form of thyroid cancer so possibly it may have helped speed her treatment.

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