Scientists in Nottingham have found abnormal levels of seven different proteins in spinal fluid could act as markers for detecting Alzheimerâ€™s disease. The study, which was part-funded by Alzheimerâ€™s Research UK, the UKâ€™s leading dementia research charity, could lead to the development of a new test to detect the disease in its early stages.
Researchers at the University of Nottinghamâ€™s Human Genetics department and Nottingham Trent Universityâ€™s John van Geest Cancer Research Centre studied samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to look for potential markers of Alzheimerâ€™s. They compared CSF samples from 33 people with Alzheimerâ€™s disease, 20 healthy older people and ten people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) â€“ a condition that causes problems with memory and thinking, but not to an extent that interferes with daily life.
Dr Baharak Vafadar-Isfahani and her colleagues first analysed each CSF sample to build a profile of the proteins it contained, and looked for patterns that could distinguish between people with Alzheimerâ€™s and healthy people. They found people with the disease tended to have higher levels of four specific proteins, and lower levels of three other proteins, suggesting that together they could act as markers for the disease.
One protein in particular, called SPARCL1, was the strongest predictor for the disease. When the CSF samples were tested for changes in SPARCL1 alone, the researchers were able to detect whether a person had Alzheimerâ€™s disease with 65% accuracy. When they checked for abnormal levels of all seven proteins, accuracy improved to 95%. The discovery of SPARCL1, amongst other proteins, resulted from the application of technologies developed at the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre.
The scientists then tested their findings on a new set of CSF samples, taken from 32 healthy people and 30 Alzheimerâ€™s patients. All seven markers taken together were able to detect Alzheimerâ€™s within this new cohort with 85% accuracy.
The researchers now plan to use their results, which are due to be published online in theÂ Journal of Alzheimerâ€™s DiseaseÂ on 7 February, to help develop a blood test that could diagnose Alzheimerâ€™s in its earliest stages.
Prof Kevin Morgan of the University of Nottingham, who co-authored the study, said: â€œOur results have given us a new lead for improving early diagnosis of Alzheimerâ€™s disease. An early diagnosis would not only help people prepare for the future, but would also enable people to be involved in clinical trials at a much earlier stage, when new treatments are more likely to have a positive effect.
â€œIt will also be important to investigate what causes these specific proteins to change as Alzheimerâ€™s develops. If we can understand the biochemical changes that occur during Alzheimerâ€™s, we stand a better chance of developing new treatments that can tackle the disease. Dementia can only be defeated through research, and I hope these findings could take us a step closer to that goal.â€
Professor Robert Rees, the Director of the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University, said:â€œThe results of this study were obtained using analytical techniques to generate complex protein profiles from patient and control samples, coupled with advanced data analysis. We believe these findings will prove extremely important in allowing us to gain further insight into this disease.â€
Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimerâ€™s Research UK, said: â€œImproving diagnosis of Alzheimerâ€™s disease is a key target for scientists, and these important findings have opened up a new avenue for research. Alzheimerâ€™s can be difficult to diagnose in the clinic, as memory problems on their own can be due to a variety of reasons. This study has the potential to help create a vital tool for doctors to identify patients that need further investigation â€“ but these results must now be followed up in order to achieve that goal.
â€œCurrently 820,000 people are affected by dementia, yet for many people a diagnosis comes too late. If we are to improve diagnosis for future generations, we must invest in research now.â€
For further information, or to speak with Prof Kevin Morgan or Dr Marie Janson, please contact Kirsty Marais, Media Officer at Alzheimerâ€™s Research UK on 01223 843304, 07826 559233 or emailÂ firstname.lastname@example.org
To speak with Prof Robert Rees or Prof Graham Ball, co-authors of the study, please contact Dave Rogers, Senior Press Officer at Nottingham Trent University on 0115 848 8782 or emailÂ email@example.comÂ
The study was supported by Alzheimerâ€™s Research UK, the Big Lottery Fund and the EU FP6 Program through BIOPATTERN.
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