By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
People who have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease may have concerns for their future cognitive health. It’s a huge concern because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Amyloid plaques in the brain are the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Plaques may slowly collect in the brain for two decades, maybe more, without causing cognitive problems. But if there’s a way to find out if you have Alzheimer’s disease many years before symptoms occur, would you want to know?
The whole concept of being able to identify disease at the earlier stages before symptoms or onset, has a lot of appeal because you could make an argument the same way that we manage cholesterol. You want to try to intervene in the disease process before an end result occurs that’s not a good outcome,” explained Joel Braunstein, MD, President & CEO of C2N Diagnostics. “For instance, in the case of heart disease, if you can treat cholesterol to prevent a heart attack, that’s better than treating cholesterol after that, after there’s been a heart attack. That’s getting into the area of prevention.”
C2N Diagnostics in St. Louis has an Alzheimer’s blood test on the market for people over the age of 60 who are experiencing symptoms. The blood test is called Precivity AD. It measures levels of the amyloid-beta protein. Amyloid-beta proteins clump together to form the sticky, toxic plaques scattered throughout the brain in Alzheimer’s.
“Amyloid plaque pathology is really the earliest indicator that something might be happening abnormal in the brain. You can even identify abnormal patterns of amyloid processing 15 or 20 years before the onset of clinical symptoms and Alzheimer’s disease. So the ability to actually measure these amyloid particles in the blood is a real innovation,” said Braunstein.
It’s not only considered innovative, it’s also practical because blood tests can be accessible and affordable. While the test is not approved for people who do not have Alzheimer’s symptoms, the earliest possible identification and prevention are the next steps.
“That is a very active area of research in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. But it is currently a research application and there’s a lot of studies that are required to make sure that you’re offering a test that can identify disease, let’s say 10 years before the onset of symptoms, but what are the implications of that to the patient?”
C2N is now engaged in advancing clinical trials to prevent the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can get patients on the fast track to therapies and clinical trials that can help them before the disease progresses.
“The earlier you intervene or the earlier you identify the presence of disease, the greater the impact you can have on preventing the downstream complications of the disease. There’s good data to show effective lifestyle interventions have an impact on delaying progression of Alzheimer’s disease the same way that we think about modifying are risk factors for heart disease,” he explained. “Think about the best prevention strategies possible and then also access clinical studies that are introducing and testing new drugs that will one day ultimately have an impact on the disease.”
Using the blood test for Alzheimer’s disease prevention takes in many considerations.
“We think about what are the safety risks associated with offering a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease” said Braunstein. “You really need to think about the psychological effects of identifying the presence of disease. What are the social implications? What are the implications about insurability? What are the implications about working and what does it mean to the family? So the infrastructure for supporting a broadscale screening strategy still needs to be developed.”