A Blood Test Can Predict Alzheimer's, Which Could One Day Mean We Can Prevent It

Just days after a study found that the CDC dramatically underestimates the number of elderly who die from Alzheimer's disease, American researchers have now invented a blood test that can accurately predict the risk of getting Alzheimer's. The implications of this research are huge: Though there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer's, being able to predict its onset could mean patients are treated before they get any symptoms — which could, one day, possibly even prevent the onset of the disease.

The research, published in Nature magazine, found that by testing blood for levels of various fats, scientists could predict the chances that Alzheimer's would come on within three years — with an astounding 90 percent accuracy.

"We discovered and validated a set of ten lipids from peripheral blood that predicted phenoconversion to either amnestic mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease within a 2–3 year timeframe with over 90% accuracy," wrote the researchers.

Alzheimer's, a disease which can claw at the brain for more than 10 years before a patient shows symptoms, affects 35 million people across the world. In the U.S., five million people are known to suffer from the illness, and it's estimated that by 2050, that number will have grown threefold.

Although it's mainly associated with memory loss and functional damage, Alzheimer's is also fatal — in fact, it's one of the top three killers of the elderly, along with cancer and heart disease. A study published earlier this week found that, here in the U.S., almost 503,400 men and women over the age 75 died from the disease in 2010 alone.

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"I think there is a huge need for a test," Howard Federoff, professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center, told the BBC."But we must look at larger numbers of people before this could be used in clinical practice."

More research still needs to be done on larger, and more ethnically various, groups of people; the 70-year-olds used for the research were mostly Caucasian Americans. So it might be a while before you can request the blood test at your monthly check-up.

Because the researchers only looked at the blood of 70-year-olds, the team hopes to go back and conduct research on those in their 40s and 50s. If they see the same connection between the presence of lipids and the onset of Alzheimer's, that could mean even bigger things in terms of treatment. For example, the group would be able to try more experimental medication.

Even so, the steps towards preventing a previously-incurable disease now seem tantalizingly close. Who knows, maybe we millennials will someday be known as the generation that beat Alzheimer's.