Alzheimer’s disease is among the leading causes of death among U.S. adults. Because it gradually impairs a person’s thinking and social skills, Alzheimer’s disease also places tremendous burdens on those living with the disorder as well their families and caregivers.
Despite decades of research, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and only a handful of approved treatments. The available treatments can alleviate the symptoms of disease—but cannot stop it from continuing to damage the brain. Scientists also now believe that Alzheimer’s disease may begin decades before outward signs, such as memory loss, become apparent.
A tool to detect Alzheimer’s disease in the earliest stages will help researchers better understand the progression of the disease and potentially develop more effective treatments.
In March 2020, the FNIH Biomarkers Consortium launched a bold new project—Plasma Aβ as a Predictor of Amyloid Positivity in Alzheimer’s Disease—intended to identify simple, effective tests to detect early Alzheimer’s disease, paving the way for potential treatments that could stop the disorder before it has seriously damaged the brain.
The new FNIH project brings together government, academic, not-for-profit and industry experts to compare six different potential platforms to measure beta amyloid, or Abeta, in a person’s body. Deposits of Abeta in the brain cause plaques between nerve cells and are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. The tests under evaluation measure levels of Abeta in plasma, requiring only a simple blood draw. The goal of the partnership is to determine which platforms for measuring Abeta in blood plasma can accurately predict the presence of beta amyloid in the brain.
An Abeta blood test could replace current tools for measuring beta amyloid, such as PET scans or testing of cerebrospinal fluid, which can be invasive, expensive and painful. This would immediately make clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment easier on researchers and trial volunteers. Over the longer term, the test could speed the search for new treatments that target the disease in its earliest stages—sparing millions of Americans from the risk of irreversible brain damage.