July 13, 2012

Researchers Develop Alzheimer’s Timeline

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

Scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine recently revealed that they have developed a “timeline” that shows early signs of Alzheimer´s, even with unseen progress.

The team of researchers examined families who had a genetic risk of having the disease. The findings, which were published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that signs of Alzheimer´s can appear up to 25 years before diagnosis of the disorder.

"This important research highlights that key changes in the brain, linked to the inherited form of Alzheimer's disease, happen decades before symptoms show, which may have major implications for diagnosis and treatment in the future,” commented Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, in a article by the BBC.

The study included 128 people from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Of all the participants, 50 percent had the possibility of inheriting one of three mutations that could lead to Alzheimer´s. These mutations were found in people who were in their 30s and 40s, and those who had the mutations would later develop Alzheimer´s. Researchers state that the findings are useful in understanding the patterns leading up to Alzheimer´s. The patients who had the mutations were much younger than the people with the illness, which normally affects people who are 60 years of age or older.

"The ability to detect the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's would not only allow people to plan and access care and existing treatments far sooner, but would also enable new drugs to be trialed in the right people, at the right time,” noted Dr. Eric Karran, director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, in the BBC article.

The researchers studied the age at which the subjects´ parents were when they started to develop the disease to determine the number of years it would take for symptoms of Alzheimer´s to appear. The subjects participated in blood and spinal fluid tests, brain scans, and exams that tested their mental ability. The scientists determined that the earliest change could be seen 25 years before the onset of the disease.

Overall, these changes in sugar glucose and memory problems were observed 10 years before symptoms materialized. The scientists saw that there was a decrease in the spinal fluid levels related to Alzheimer´s brain plaques. They also determined that there was shrinkage in parts of the brain along with increases in the levels of tau, a structural protein found in brain cells.

"These findings are a good indicator that there may be key changes in the brain happening early in people who develop non-hereditary Alzheimer's disease, but we can't be sure. Further research into this complex condition is needed to confirm a definite link,” remarked Ballard in the BBC article.

Alzheimer experts believe that early detection of the illness will be beneficial in creating a plan for successful treatment.

"These results from people with the inherited form of Alzheimer's seem to be very similar to the changes in the non-genetic, common form of the disease,” Karran told the BBC. "It's likely that any new treatment for Alzheimer's would need to be given early to have the best chance of success.”