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Biomarkers May Aid in Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's
Date:9/13/2010

heimer's, so more research is needed to determine if the test is sensitive and specific enough to be used in people with symptoms such as mild cognitive impairment, a risk factor for Alzheimer's.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease is typically done through a clinical examination with a neurologist. Neuroimaging tests are done to rule out other conditions causing the mental declines, such as stroke or brain tumors, Nixon said.

Other methods include a spinal tap or specialized MRIs that can detect amyloid protein, but these are not typically available outside of large metropolitan hospitals or as part of medical studies, O'Bryant noted.

"The real major bottleneck in the field is not so much to detect Alzheimer's, which we can do reasonably well once it has progressed, but to detect the earliest signs of the disease, or to be able to distinguish subtle memory impairment that is related to Alzheimer's from other causes of mild memory impairment," Nixon said.

Currently, several medications can help treat the symptoms of memory loss, but none do anything about the underlying causes of the disease, Nixon said.

"The purpose of the biomarkers is to find a way to identify those changes that happen at the very early stage, so that we can nip it in the bud before things get so advanced in the brain; that's [when] it's very difficult to find a medication to reverse it," Nixon said.

Researchers developed the blood test in conjunction with Rules-Based Medicine in Austin, Texas. It has applied for a patent, O'Bryant said.

In a second study from the same journal, researchers from University of Virginia Health System conducted an 18-month trial to test the safety of pioglitazone (Actos), a diabetes drug, for use in Alzheimer's patients.

Though the drug did not improve Alzheimer's symptoms, there were few side effects, according to the study.

Researchers stressed the trial involved only 25 patients and was designed only
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