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Mar 20, 2014
 |  BC Innovations  |  Tools & Techniques

Plasma lipids: harbingers of AD?

A panel of plasma lipids could represent a new diagnostic tool for identifying patients likely to develop Alzheimer's disease before symptoms appear, according to new clinical findings from a team of U.S. researchers.1 Although the lipid panel could help enrich clinical trials of AD therapeutics for likely responders, validation studies will need to confirm its specificity for AD over other forms of dementia.

Diagnosis of AD and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), currently involves detecting changes in biomarkers that often occur together with or after the onset of neurocognitive symptoms. In addition, measuring levels of the key biomarkers-b-amyloid (Ab) and its peptides, and microtubule-associated protein-t (MAPT; tau; FTDP-17)-requires invasive procedures such as lumbar puncture or costly and time-consuming methods such as PET imaging or functional MRI scans.

Simple blood tests to detect AD noninvasively before the onset of symptoms have become the Holy Grail for diagnosing the disease. Several studies have tried to correlate the progression of MCI to AD with blood levels of small molecules, Ab peptides, tau or other proteins.2-4 However, none has identified blood markers that could predict which cognitively normal individuals are at risk of developing AD.

To bridge this diagnostic gap, a team headed by Mark Mapstone and Howard Federoff conducted a 5-year clinical study to look for plasma markers in individuals age 70 or older with no cognitive impairment that could predict which of them would develop AD or amnestic MCI (aMCI)-the memory-related form of MCI that most often progresses to AD.

Mapstone is an associate professor of neurology and neurogeriatrics at the University of Rochester. He co-led the team with Howard Federoff, EVP of health sciences at Georgetown University and executive dean of the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The team included researchers from the Unity Health System, Rochester General Hospital and the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.

Panel power

The team enrolled 525 participants with no history of major neurological, psychiatric or blood disorders. Blood samples were withdrawn and cognitive tests performed at the start of the study and every year thereafter.

Of the 74 patients who were identified with symptoms of AD or aMCI during the study, 46 already had symptoms at the start of the study but had never been diagnosed with aMCI or...

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