Science and Health

New Blood Test Could Predict Alzheimer's 3 Years In Advance

Researchers say a simple blood test can tell the difference between seniors who will develop Alzheimer's within three years and those who won't.

New Blood Test Could Predict Alzheimer's 3 Years In Advance
Georgetown University

For decades, Alzheimer's researchers have been looking for a way to predict the disease in advance that isn't incredibly invasive or expensive. Now a group of scientists at Georgetown University say they might have found it.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, looked at hundreds of elderly adults who were cognitively normal, trying to find a difference between those who went on to develop Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairment and those who didn't.

What they came up with was a blood test looking at 10 lipids, or fat molecules, that was able to predict who would develop the disease within two to three years with 90-percent accuracy.

Currently, the only tests available to predict Alzheimer's are either expensive, like brain scans in an MRI, or painful, like spinal taps, so few people get tested before symptoms appear. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Liz West, DocP)

Alzheimer's is a growing problem in the U.S. More than five million people have the disease, and that number's expected to grow to more than seven million by 2025.

And while the CDC currently lists Alzheimer's as the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. with 83,000 deaths per year, a study from Rush University released last week show that number may be much higher, rivaling the half-million deaths per year of cancer and heart disease.

And there's no cure. What's worse, the new study's lead author, Dr. Howard Federoff, says even the treatments we do have just aren't very effective.

"One of the reasons for this may be that the stage in which they were evaluated, which is in patients who already have the disease, may be the wrong stage." (Via Georgetown University)

The hope is that a simple blood test to diagnose Alzheimer's patients years before symptoms emerge could open the flood gates of research into new, early treatments. For that, Federoff tells CNN he considers this study the single most important finding he's ever made.

The new blood test still needs to be evaluated by the scientific and medical communities before it becomes widespread, which would likely take a minimum of two years.