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Blood Tests May Predict Dementia 15 Year Before Diagnosis

A blood test that looks for changes in certain proteins could predict dementia up to 15 years before diagnosis, research suggests.

Scientists have identified 11 proteins that they say are highly accurate (more than 90 per cent) at predicting future dementia.

These proteins, found in the liquid component of blood known as the plasma, are markers for the biological changes that happen in people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

One such protein – known as GFAP – has previously been identified as a potential biomarker in smaller studies.

The researchers, from the University of Warwick and Fudan University in China, described their findings, published in the journal Nature Aging, as a “breakthrough”.

Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s department of computer science, said the test “could be seamlessly integrated into the NHS and used as a screening tool by GPs”.

There are over 944,000 people in the UK with dementia, which is expected to rise to over one million in the next 6 years.

The researchers said an early diagnosis is critical for those with the condition – as there are new drugs that can slow progression of the disease if detected early enough.

Jia You, of Fudan University, said early screening “holds immense significance in pinpointing dementia risks”.

He said: “A notable advantage of plasma protein analysis is that it merely necessitates routine blood tests, similar to those conducted during regular hospital visits or health checks.

“This simplicity offers a considerable edge over more invasive procedures like lumbar punctures, especially where the targeting population are healthy individuals.”

Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research and Innovation at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer. Yet many people live with the condition without ever being diagnosed. This leaves them unable to access vital support, take part in clinical trials, and put care plans in place for the future. We wouldn’t accept this for any other condition, so we shouldn’t for dementia.

“This research looked at proteins in the blood of healthy individuals and followed them up 15 years later and found a common set of proteins in those that went on to develop dementia.

It’s very early days and lots more work is needed but this could lay the groundwork for the early prediction of dementia and teach us more about how to provide an early and accurate diagnosis.

Dr Oakley added: “What we need now are blood tests that work in a real-world setting and that can accurately diagnose dementia when someone is starting to show symptoms.

This is why we’re working with Alzheimer’s Research UK on the Blood Biomarker Challenge which will revolutionise the way dementia is diagnosed.

 

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