New tests could aid early-Alzheimer's diagnosis

Tue Jul 21, 2009 4:09pm EDT
 
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Proteins in spinal fluid accurately detect early-stage Alzheimer's disease in patients and could pave the way for better drug research, Swedish researchers said on Tuesday.

Several teams have been working on better ways to detect early-stage Alzheimer's disease in hopes of developing drugs that can fight it before it causes too much damage.

"We confirmed in a large multi-center study that these (cerebrospinal fluid) biomarkers may identify early-stage Alzheimer's disease, which has previously been suggested in earlier smaller studies," Dr. Niklas Mattsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, wrote in an e-mail.

Mattsson said the current study in patients with mild cognitive impairment or MCI, a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, strengthens the argument that proteins in spinal fluid can accurately show who has early-stage disease.

This may also be useful in structuring smaller clinical trials to test whether a drug is working. Current diagnostic measures, such as neurological and memory tests, are less accurate, forcing drug companies to run large, expensive clinical trials to show their drugs work.

"The drug industry certainly fears failure of these large scale studies and biomarkers may save millions of dollars in addition to allowing a more rapid development of efficient drugs," Mattsson said.

FEW WEAPONS

Despite decades of research, doctors still have few effective weapons against Alzheimer's, a mind-robbing form of dementia that affects more than 26 million people globally and is expected to reach 100 million by 2050.   Continued...