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New blood test may be able to screen for Alzheimer's Disease

Study suggests a type of protein can be identified with high accuracy, even before symptoms begin to show
Medicare Alzheimer Brain Scans
Posted at 11:38 AM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 12:38:58-05

WAUWATOSA — A new study brings a big breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s, a blood test that can screen for the disease.

Losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s doesn't happen the day they pass away, but rather in the months and years they battle with the disease.

“She sometimes would not remember things. She would kind of talk a little bit, say things that she would never have seen before,” said Catherine Nelson.

Catherine Nelson is talking about her mother Eleanor, who she says was the heart of their family.

"I remember her coming out and she says, 'Well, you know, the reason I can't walk really well is my shoes.' And I remember the doctor saying, 'Well, it's not your shoes,'" said Nelson.

Eleanor was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her late 80s.

Catherine says watching her mom's condition worsen pushed her and her five siblings to try to find answers for themselves.

“Because it's our mom, are we going to get it? So, let's do what we want to do because we don't want to have the same thing and go through the same thing that mom did,'" said Nelson.

Catherine isn't alone.

A new study suggests that a person's blood can be tested for a type of protein called P-tau.

That protein can then be used to screen for Alzheimer’s disease with high accuracy, even before symptoms begin.

“What's so exciting about the blood test is that the conventional, traditional diagnostic markers for Alzheimer's disease are kind of costly and invasive,” said Benjamin Brett, PhD.

Dr. Benjamin Brett is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

He says once the protein is identified, it could potentially be removed.

“We assume it's going to be more effective in slowing down the disease and potentially being more effective in just the overall progression,” said Brett.

He says the development of the blood test is the start of a new horizon for Alzheimer's research.

"It's very rare that, you know, Alzheimer's disease, the typical primary feature that happens first there are problems in memory, right? But often by the time people come in, there's problems in how fast they're thinking, their processing speed, their memory, their executive functioning, attention,” said Brett.

Catherine understands advancements like these take time and encourages other to remain hopeful.

“The best thing is just love that person who has it. You know, even though they don't remember you from day to day, you remember them and your memories will go on and on,” said Nelson.

The blood test isn't available for the general public just yet.

Dr. Brett says that while that's the case, that doesn't mean that active research isn't happening on Alzheimer’s disease across the country as well as right here in Wisconsin.

The goal is to make tools like that available for everyone sooner rather than later.