Biomarkers may assist in Alzheimer's detection years before first symptoms

By measuring biomarkers in spinal fluid, Johns Hopkins researchers may be able to predict when people will develop the cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer's disease years before the first symptoms of memory loss appear. The discovery could provide a long-sought tool to guide earlier use of potential drug treatments to prevent or halt the progression of Alzheimer's while people are still cognitively normal.

To date, medications designed to stop the brain damage in Alzheimer's patients have failed in clinical trials, possibly, many researchers say, because they are given to those who already have symptoms and too much damage to overcome. By measuring levels of certain proteins in cerebrospinal fluid, researchers say, they may be able to detect cognitive decline much earlier.

Results of the research are published in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Neurology.

"When we see patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we don't say we will wait to treat you until you get congestive heart failure," says Marilyn Albert, a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and primary investigator on the study. "Early treatments keep heart disease patients from getting worse, and it's possible the same may be true for those with pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's. But it has been hard to see Alzheimer's disease coming, even though we believe it begins developing in the brain a decade or more before the onset of symptoms."

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