The Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute has partnered with Inverness Medical Innovations Inc of Waltham, Mass to speed development of the first commercial test to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The test could be available in 12 to 18 months, according to researchers, and would enable patients to try and slow the progression of the disease. Through regular testing, the test could be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatments, helping scientists to develop a medicine against the disease. Inverness Medical Innovations Inc will fund development of a home version of the test if the commercial version is successful. Today, early Alzheimer’s is often incorrectly diagnosed because tests are based on evaluations of the patient’s behavior, working to rule out other causes for symptoms of forgetfulness. Steps currently practiced to slow the disease’s progression include improving the patient’s diet, giving them more mental exercise, or entering them into a clinical study of an experimental drug. The only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s with certainty now is by looking for the disease’s signature pattern of brain damage during an autopsy after the patient dies. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is increasing as the population ages.
How does the new test work? By detecting abnormal function of a protein shown to be involved in memory storage. A small skin sample is taken from the patient at a doctor’s office or testing center and shipped to the institute. Next, scientists grow the cells in a petri dish with a substance to stimulate the PKC enzyme. The enzyme combines with phosphorus in the skin cells. If there’s too much phosphorus in the combination, the patient has Alzheimer’s. The test has been tried on more than 300 patients in 15 hospitals. 42 of these patients were confirmed later by autopsy as having Alzheimer’s, and the test was 98% accurate on the autopsied patients. The test is not invasive, an improvement over other tests currently in development which necessitate painful removal of cerebrospinal fluid from the patient’s brain. The new test should also only cost a few hundred dollars, making it much more affordable than expensive brain imaging, which searches for a pattern of plaque buildup in the brain indicating a predisposition toward Alzheimer’s.
The Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, founded by WV Senator Jay Rockefeller, is based at West Virginia University and is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. The institute has also just received permission to begin its first small test in the US in Alzheimer’s patients for a treatment which uses a potent natural substance to activate the PKC enzyme in early stage patients.