Edinburgh Study Could Bring Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis a Step Closer

Scientists in Edinburgh have found particles in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that could be harnessed to identify changes in the brain that occur during Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which was part-funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, could pave the way for a new test to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh hope to be able to detect Alzheimer’s by measuring changes in exosomes – tiny particles that are released by cells into different bodily fluids. Because exosomes contain proteins and other materials from the cells that release them, they could offer a wealth of information about what is happening to those cells.

Although exosomes have already been shown to be present in fluids such as blood and saliva, the scientists set out to discover whether they could also be found in people’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It’s hoped that changes in CSF will give a more accurate picture of any changes occurring in the brain.

The researchers used state-of-the-art techniques to study samples of CSF from five people who were undergoing surgery for aortic aneurism. They found not only that exosomes were present in CSF, but that these exosomes also contained a variety of different proteins. The results are published this month in the Journal of Translational Medicine, and the researchers now plan to develop new techniques to isolate the different proteins contained in these exosomes. It’s hoped this approach could ultimately be used to detect changes in people with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which currently affects 5,000 people in Edinburgh alone and 820,000 people across the UK.

Dr James Dear, who co-authored the study, said:
“This is an exciting development for us, but in order for these findings to help people with Alzheimer’s it’s vital that we now follow up this work. If we can refine our methods and get a detailed look at the proteins these particles contain, we hope this approach could help detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage. If this method proves successful, it could also help clinical trials by allowing researchers to monitor how patients are responding to potential new treatments.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We’re delighted to have supported this study, which has demonstrated that in principle, this method may be useful for detecting Alzheimer’s disease. We now need to see whether this approach will be able to pick up some of the early changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

“The ability to detect Alzheimer’s disease early is a key goal for research – such a test would allow new drugs to be trialled in the right people, as early as possible, when they are more likely to have a beneficial effect. These are promising results, and if they are to be translated into a test that could be used in the clinic, we must continue to invest in research.”

The study was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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