SCIENTISTS from Yorkshire have developed new technology which could lead to a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.
The condition is the most common form of dementia, with more than 37 million sufferers worldwide, but cannot be conclusively diagnosed until after death. Numbers of sufferers will grow significantly in coming years as the population ages.
A new biosensor discovered by researchers at Leeds University measures harmful clusters of the protein amyloid-beta, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
Jo Rushworth, who led the study by a team in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, said a reliable early test would allow doctors to intervene using drugs which at present can be given too late due to uncertainty over diagnosis.
“If we were able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier, the symptoms could be better managed and future treatments could be given at a time when they would have most effect,” she said.
The newly-devised biosensor can detect very small quantities of amyloid-beta clusters. Previous research has shown levels of amyloid clusters in the bloodstream correlate with levels in the brain, which is linked to onset of Alzheimer’s disease and its severity.
Dr Rushworth said: “We are still at the laboratory stage but, eventually, if we are able to develop this technology, we would be looking to have a mobile phone-sized device where you could do a finger-prick blood test and get an immediate read-out telling the doctor the level of these markers in your system.”
Biosensors, such as the finger-prick blood sugar monitor used by diabetics, are rapid, easy to handle and can be used in a doctor’s surgery or by a patient at home.
As well as speeding up diagnosis, an Alzheimer’s biosensor would also allow doctors to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other types of dementia and avoid prescribing drugs that are not relevant.
Simon Ridley, head of research at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK which provided research funding, said: “The search for diagnostic markers of Alzheimer’s is developing at a rapid pace and investment in research is crucial if we are to explore the true potential of this kind of technology for helping people with dementia.”
The study is in the Biosensors and Bioelectronics journal.