Health/Sci-TechLifestyleVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 14

New blood analysis may predict dementia 10 years in advance

A new way of assessing proteins in a person’s blood may be able to predict the likelihood of developing dementia more than a decade later, according to a study in the journal Nature Aging.

The results could lead to what researchers call “ultra early detection” of brain changes that can lead to severe cognitive problems. There is no cure for dementia, but earlier detection would add years of time during which people could engage in lifestyle changes or treatments to potentially prevent the disease from progressing.

The researchers analyzed nearly 1,500 proteins found in the blood and estimated a person’s risk of developing dementia over a period of about 15 years. Their findings confirmed previously reported links between dementia and three plasma proteins, which are known as GFAP, NEFL, and GDF15. A newcomer to the protein predictor group called LTBP2 was among the most predictive and versatile in the results. The researchers were able to develop predictions for dementia from any cause, for Alzheimer’s disease, and for vascular dementia.

The major breakthrough of this latest research is that the team combined the predictive powers of different proteins to achieve a higher level of accuracy in determining someone’s long-term risk of dementia. The results were even more accurate when including a person’s basic demographic information of age, sex, and education, as well as whether the person had a genetic predisposition toward Alzheimer’s disease based on the gene known as APOE4.

The study included 52,645 adults who did not have dementia at the start of the study. The average age of people at the outset was 58 years old, 54% were women, and 94% were white. Among the people in the study, 2.7% developed dementia during a median follow-up period of 14 years. Among those cases, 219 people developed dementia within 5 years, 833 developed it within 10 years, and 584 developed it more than 10 years after the study started.

A major limitation of the study’s findings is that all of the people in the study lived in the United Kingdom, and it’s unclear if the predictive accuracy would remain among a more diverse population.

One of the researchers told the Reuters news agency that talks are underway to develop a commercially available test based on the research results.