Alzheimer’s disease (AD) diagnosis is a challenge for patients, physicians, and researchers. There is no single accurate test to diagnose AD.1 People cannot be diagnosed until they begin to exhibit signs and symptoms of the disease. Physicians rely on a series of tests, including blood and urine tests, scans such as CTs or MRIs, memory tests, and symptom discussions with friends and family to make a diagnosis of AD, or at least rule out other causes of memory loss and cognitive impairment.1
Benefits to diagnosing Alzheimer’s early
Early diagnosis of AD is important for many reasons. People who begin treatment for AD earlier may be able to preserve their cognitive function for a longer period of time.1 People who are diagnosed early also have the opportunity to set up an advanced directive, choose a legal and medical power of attorney, make end-of-life decisions, and have discussions with their families about living arrangements and how those arrangements may change as their disease progresses.1 People who are diagnosed with AD earlier also have the opportunity to set up good support networks, but most importantly, they have the opportunity to participate in AD research, which can benefit not only the patient and their family but many other future AD patients.1
Researchers have realized the value of diagnosing AD early, both for patients and for other researchers. Two researchers have founded a company that is creating a blood test or skin biopsy to look at cellular biomarkers that can help identify AD and other cognitively impaired people accurately at an earlier stage in their disease.2 These biomarker tests can also be used to monitor AD as the disease progresses. While part of the intention of this test is to work toward a personalized treatment, the other benefit is that people with AD can share their information with researchers to facilitate better medications and treatments for AD.2
Technology to help diagnose Alzheimer’s
The researchers are using technology that looks at patient DNA in real-time to understand cell functions and to classify biomarkers specific to AD and other neuro-cognitive impairments.2 As biomarkers are chemical signals within cells, these tests use DNA filaments to test cellular chemistry in order to understand how cells are functioning, or more importantly how they are malfunctioning.
While this technology is still in development (the researchers are hoping to release the tests in the next three years, but admit that this may be an ambitious goal), it has important implications for AD research.2 Currently, the only definitive way to diagnose someone with AD is by examining the brain in a post-mortem autopsy.1 There is a demand for new and better treatments for AD and other neurodegenerative diseases, but it has been over twenty years since there has been an approval for a new AD medication. Allowing researchers greater access to AD patients and their information would be an important step in gathering more information for research, and these researchers would like their product to work closely with AD researchers.2
Research like this helps bring science closer to not only a good diagnosis for AD and other dementias and neurocognitive disorders, but it also continues to drive studies for better treatments at all stages of AD. While these tests are still being perfected, it is important to note that the researchers who are designing this technology recognized the importance of linking their research with other scientists who are trying to find AD treatments. This collaboration is an important step in finding better treatment for AD and other neurocognitive impairments.
How Is Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosed?. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-alzheimers-disease-diagnosed. Published 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019.
Oppenheim S. Could This Blood Test Revolutionise How Dementia and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases Are Diagnosed?. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/serenaoppenheim/2019/06/04/could-this-blood-test-revolutionise-how-dementia-and-other-neurodegenerative-diseases-are-diagnosed/#4136ae0f4f57. Published 2019. Accessed July 18, 2019.
Growdon M. Ethical Issues in the Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease. Journal of Ethics | American Medical Association. https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/ethical-issues-early-diagnosis-alzheimer-disease/2011-12. Published 2011. Accessed July 18, 2019.