Study: New test might help diagnose Alzheimer's earlier

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A new test that measures amyloid levels in the spinal fluid of people with mild cognitive impairment could help physicians more accurately predict who will develop Alzheimer's, a new study finds.

Researchers from Technical University in Munich, Germany, collected spinal fluid samples from 58 individuals with slight memory deficits or cognitive impairments. They tested for remnants of a building block of beta amyloid called amyloid precursor protein or APP, Reuters reported. Currently, doctors confirm an Alzheimer's diagnosis by measuring the levels of tau protein and beta amyloid in spinal fluid. The latter causes sticky plaques in the brain.

Within three years of the test, 21 participants developed full-blown Alzheimer's; 27 had mild cognitive impairment and eight subjects returned to normal cognitive function. Two participants developed frontotemporal dementia and were excluded from the results. Combined with other biomarkers for Alzheimer's — such as the patient's age and the presence of tau — the spinal fluid test predicted the eventual onset of Alzheimer's with an 80% accuracy rate.

Additionally, the scientists discovered that the form of beta amyloid typically used to test for Alzheimer's was a poor predictor of which patients with mild impairment would progress to dementia, Reuters reported.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.