James M. Berklan

At first blush, news that a new breakthrough Alzheimer’s study had found an 87% success rate was, well, irritating. Why not closer to 100% or at least 90%? Although many media types splashed news of the hopeful British study, others collectively grumbled. “Get back to us when you have something truly solid to report,” they seemed to say.

Well, not so fast with the cynicism. First of all, the researchers acknowledged that 87% accuracy is not good enough (and, surprise, that more research is needed). They also spelled out what this might mean for making significant inroads against the fourth-leading cause of death in adults, and an extremely common condition about long-term care residents.

The research centered on the examination of 10 particular blood proteins in people with early signs of memory loss to determine their chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease within a year. The 10 were narrowed down from a field of thousands of other proteins, an amazing feat in itself.

What it could lead to is earlier detection of Alzheimer’s development. This is key because currently most research on individuals is started after the brain is too far degraded to be helpful. Testing at earlier stages could very likely lead to better treatment protocols.

Scientists from King’s College London and the British company Proteome teamed up to conduct the study. More than 1,100 individuals took part in what is now the largest investigation of blood bio-markers linked to Alzheimer’s. News about it broke Tuesday, when findings were published in a paper in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease,” pointed out senior study author Simon Lovestone in a statement.

“Many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely affected,” he continued. “A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease.”

The simplicity of the type of blood test in focus should be underlined. Currently, analysis of cerebrospinal fluid and advanced brain imaging can predict the onset of dementia in healthy people, but the former is invasive and the latter is rather costly.

Alzheimer’s experts on both sides of the Atlantic cautioned that, while promising, the findings do not bring a “cure” for Alzheimer’s. There is no creation of a curative shot or pill imminent — at least not in the near future.

But there is a future to look forward to, and the light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little larger than the microscopic dot it once was.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Editor. Follow him @LTCEditorsDesk.