• Robb G. Best

The App That Predicts Alzheimer's Risk

What is the likelihood that a given person will develop Alzheimer's disease within the next two to four years? Currently, the quickest way is to look holistically at variables like age, gender, education and scores on basic memory tests. However, this model doesn't provide the most reliable answer available. The other, more accurate diagnostic tools at our disposal are time-consuming and expensive, like using PET cameras and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) analyses, which are also only available in some specialist healthcare settings.

"Our goal over the last few years has been to find simple methods that can be used in primary care to make an early diagnosis and to begin treatment to relieve symptoms at an earlier stage," says Oskar Hansson, professor in neurology at Lund University and consultant at the clinical memory research unit at Skåne University Hospital.

Now Hansson and his colleagues at Lund University believe they might have developed the next step in this quest. Their new study looked at a total of 573 people experiencing mild cognitive impairment, with an average age of 71. These participants came from two major multi-center studies: the Swedish BioFinder Study and ADNI, the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The study was led by Hansson and Niklas Mattsson-Carlgren from Lund University and is a collaboration with Henrik Zetterberg and Kaj Blennow at the Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital, the Clinical Neurochemistry Laboratory in Mölndal and the American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, among others.

The results of the study suggest that certain biomarkers in the blood can reveal a person's risk for Alzheimer's disease. Blood samples taken from people with minor memory impairment can be tested for relative levels of two specific proteins (‘phosphorylated tau’ and ‘neurofilamet light’), and the result is the portrait of an individual's likelihood of developing the disease within the next four years, one that is about as reliable as a CSF analysis.

"This will require more studies, but we have absolutely come one major step closer to our goal”, says Hansson.

The researchers also developed a simple online tool - an app - where users can plug in their age, gender, education and scores on a cognition test along with their blood test results. Users can then nearly instantaneously receive a value which predicts their relative risk for developing Alzheimer's disease within the next two to four years. For the moment, this tool has not been approved for healthcare purposes; it is a research tool only. However, it may be a glimpse at the future.

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