Artist's representation of amyloid beta plaques on brain nerve cells

An experimental Alzheimer’s blood test has outshone standard diagnostic methods in accuracy and may soon prove to be a cost-effective, accessible tool in the clinical setting, according to a study presented this week at the virtual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The blood-based biomarker phospho-tau217 had 96% accuracy in discriminating Alzheimer’s disease from other neurodegenerative diseases such as vascular dementia or Parkinson’s disease, reported Oskar Hansson, M.D., Ph.D., of Skane University Hospital, Sweden. It performed similarly to key diagnostic measures such as tau PET scans and CSF biomarkers, and better than several other blood tests and magnetic resonance imaging measurements.

More work is needed to improve the test method and further validate the findings, but the researchers and outside observers alike characterize the test as a big step forward.

“It’s not a cure, it’s not a treatment, but you can’t treat the disease without being able to diagnose it,” Michael Weiner, M.D., an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times. “And accurate, low-cost diagnosis is really exciting, so it’s a breakthrough.” Weiner was not involved in the research.

The test has the potential to “revolutionize” Alzheimer’s treatment and clinical care, said the study’s senior author Eric Reiman, M.D., executive director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. “While there’s more work to do, I anticipate that [its] impact in both the research and clinical setting will become readily apparent within the next two years.”

The study was published in JAMA Network.