Last week, the Alzheimer's Association held the 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago. In an effort to promote early detection of the disease, advances in discovering biomarkers by recent research were shared.
It was explained that a biomarker is a substance or characteristic that can be objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal body processes, disease processes, or the body's responses to a therapeutic intervention.
There is even more "scientific-speak" (which also can be very similar to "government-speak"), but in a nutshell, the research indicates that some of the brain changes such as amyloid plaques and neruofibrillary tangles begin many years before symptoms are shown. If we could identify individuals with these brain changes while they are still cognitively "normal", we could test more future disease modifying therapies.
I guess this is similar to knowing that you are more likely to develop diabetes, for instance, due to certain factors being present and if you change your diet and start exercising, you can delay or prevent the on-set. Researchers are hoping to find a similar solution to Alzheimer's Disease by being able to identify the brain changes earlier. They would like to be able to use measurable markers to determine the presence of Alzheimer's pathology through blood or urine samples or perhaps MRI or PET imaging technology.
A blood test may be possible as healthy brain cells do not go through the process of division and replication (known as the "cell cycle") that is common in other cells in the body. However, in Alzheimer's Disease, brain cells have a tendency to prepare to re-enter this cell cycle, which may increase their likelihood of dying or directly cause their death.
This cell cycle defect can be found in white blood cells (lymphocytes) of people with Alzheimer's and this means a simple blood cell collection could be used for testing. More trials are being conducted this summer and if all goes well, physicians will be able to use this method as another early test for Alzheimer's Disease.
Definitely a senior will benefit from early detection of Alzheimer's Disease as both medications and proper care can assist the senior and loved ones to more easily adjust to the needs of the disease.
If you are interested in reading the scientific explanations, visit the Alzheimer's Association website at: