Scientists believe they have identified a new biomarker for Alzheimer’s that could help diagnose patients in the early stages of the disease, and give them treatment before it is too late.
Current therapies rely on finding the pathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s in the brain - the amyloid protein plaques that form tangles - but by this point there is no hope of curing the person.
Senior author Erkki Ruoslahti, said: “It is clear that treatments need to be given earlier - before amyloid plaques appear.”
According to the team, the new research has avoided going down the same path as many other failed clinical trials and has instead focused on a peptide that appears in the brain much sooner.
Using a mouse model, they focused on the DAG peptide that recognises when levels of a particular protein, connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), start to become raised.
This is important because CTGF is made in response to inflammation and tissue repair, and elevated quantities have been linked to Alzheimer’s and are now considered to be a direct precursor to the amyloid plaques.
This is consistent with a wider body of evidence suggesting that inflammation plays an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
They also found that where the DAG peptide binds in the brain is in the endothelial cells (the cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels) and this would be hugely beneficial for treating the disease.
Ruoslahti explains: “This is very significant because the endothelial cells are readily accessible for probes injected into the bloodstream, whereas other types of cells in the brain are behind a protective wall called the blood-brain barrier.
“The change in AD blood vessels gives us an opportunity to create a diagnostic method that can detect AD at the earliest stage possible.”
Not only is this a breakthrough for Alzheimer’s but the research can be used to provide a means of homing drugs to diseased areas of the brain to treat Parkinson’s, brain injuries and strokes as well.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a degenerative and progressive neurological disease, affecting an estimated 850,000 people in the UK, according to the NHS.
But research suggests by 2040, more than 1.2 million people in England and Wales will have dementia.
They predict this figure will rise to 872,000 in 2020, 1,092,000 in 2030 and 1,205,000 in 2040. As a result, there will be a 57% rise in cases in 2040, compared with last year, they said.