TECH

Alzheimer's Could Be Identified 7 Years Before Onset Following Revolutionary Discovery

The breakthrough could also open up a new avenue for drug research.

15/12/2016 12:25 GMT

Scientists have found a revolutionary way to identify Alzheimer’s years before symptoms start to appear.

Researchers in Germany discovered that people genetically predisposed to the disease showed abnormal immune reactions seven years before onset.

Signs of the disease can be detected by searching for a specific protein segregated by immune cells, known as the microglia, in the cerebrospinal fluid.

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Prof. Christian Haass from the Ludwig Maximilian University said the discovery would allow doctors to search for drugs to tackle the illness.

“The activity of the microglia is stimulated by dying brain cells, not by the deposits of amyloid proteins, called plaques, which also occur in Alzheimer’s disease,” Haass notes.

“The microglia may have a protective function, which however comes to a standstill as the disease progresses. We are therefore searching for drugs to increase the activity of the microglia.”

A total of 127 people with an average age of 40 and a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s took part in the test.

The scientists are now investigating whether the protein, TREM2, can be used as a therapeutic market to monitor drug response.