John Trojanowski, of the University of Pennsylvania lead a research study that has isolated attest that seems to be 100% accurate in predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s. The results will be presented in Archives of Neurology.
Over the past years, we have begun to understand more about this disease; it now seems that it takes about a decade for full-scale symptoms to appear- and once they have, it’s too late to save the brain from the disease. Up to now, the test that held promise was a PET scan. This test uses equipment that is not currently found in physician’s offices; however, the PET scan detects the amyloid plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s. This new test is based upon a different analysis- lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap.
Spinal taps afford the physician the ability to sample and test the cerebrospinal fluid. The test searches for amyloid beta, which is associated with the plaques in the brain, and for tau, a protein found in dead and dying brain neurons. Those patients that had Alzheimer’s were positive for the proteins; those with mild cognitive impairment had the proteins- and this is a precursor condition to Alzheimer’s. Those with the proteins developed full-blown Alzheimer’s within five years.
The results are repeatable- but the question really is should a test be offered if there is no cure for the disease. And, many patients are not comfortable with the concept of a spinal tap. One clear indication to use the test is upon patients with severe mental loss; this is not always associated with Alzheimer’s. And, we no longer have to wait for an autopsy to determine if the patient had developed Alzheimer’s or not.