What: A simple blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been discovered and validated in a joint effort by a McGill team and researchers in Sweden.
How: The blood test accurately measures one of the proteins – P-tau181 – implicated in AD.
Why is this important?
According to Dr. Tharick Pascoal who just completed his PhD in McGill’s Integrated Program in Neuroscience (IPN), about 30% of patients currently diagnosed with AD don’t actually have the disease. They may have mild cognitive impairment, or some other neurological problem. Knowing clearly what neurological or cognitive problem our loved ones have is vital in determining the type and amount of care they need. Furthermore, knowing definitely whether our loved ones have AD is important since drugs prescribed by doctors to treat Alzheimer’s, such as Aricept, may be harmful if taken by a patient doesn’t have AD. This is according to Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto, Associate Professor in the Departments of Neurology & Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
This discovery hits close to home for me. Here’s why: My grandmother was recently diagnosed with Pre-Alzheimer’s disease. Since she’s 87 and having issues remembering certain details, it seems a reasonable diagnosis. She was prescribed Aricept to slow the effects of the disease (yes, the same drug that could potentially be harmful if she does not have AD). However, the diagnosis was made after a single visit to the doctor. And since her regular physician wasn’t available at the time, a different doctor met with her to assist. This new doctor diagnosed her and then prescribed medicine for Alzheimer’s Disease. There was no test done by her regular physician, and she wasn’t referred to a neurologist. To be fair, I know the doctor that diagnosed her at the time had her bests interests at heart. But does she really have AD? Perhaps, or perhaps not.
Until now, the only way to tell was an expensive PET scan, invasive lumbar puncture, and (without being too grim) autopsy. When this new blood test becomes widely available, knowing definitively if a loved one has Alzheimer’s will be as simple as drawing a vial of blood.
Please check out the full article by Gillian Woodford below.
The Lancet Neurology, Vol 19, May 2020, DOI: https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/laneur/PIIS1474-4422(20)30071-5.pdf