A study authored by UNT Health Science Center researchers successfully used a blood test to predict the early onset of Alzheimer’s in a sample of Mexican-American Fort Worth residents with a success rate of 96 percent.
The research, the authors contend, shows how impactful a blood test could be if it’s administered during annual checkups in aging patients. The biomarkers, whether they be inflammatory or metabolic, were proven to identify patients with mild memory impairment, which is often a precursor to the deadly Alzheimer’s disease. Catch it early, and the patients have more of a chance to slow or outright stop its development. And considering Alzheimer’s tends to impact Mexican-Americans earlier than it does other races, the findings may be especially pertinent.
“We demonstrated that our blood test works very well in a community setting to determine that early mild memory loss could precede and be an early signal of Alzheimer’s in the future,” said Dr. Sid O’Bryant, the director of the university’s Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disease Research. “We’re excited about this one because it’s the first one to look at this among Mexican Americans. And, two, it’s a community sample … we want to make this useful for primary care doctors.”
O’Bryant’s findings were published last month in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research was aimed at identifying biomarkers that could tip off the development of the fatal neurological disease in this subgroup of Mexican-Americans. O’Bryant’s past research has hypothesized that Alzheimer’s manifests in different ways among different people. These so-called “disease pathways” are believed to partially fuel the development of Alzheimer’s, an ailment that still has a great many questions about what causes it.
Inflammation can be a signal, as can a metabolic tip-off such as diabetes. Catching these markers early can allow physicians to treat the associated ailments and decrease the risk of a related cognitive deficiency to arise later in life, O’Bryant says. Studies like this Health & Aging Brain among Latino Elders study, or HABLE, are his efforts to prove that in normal residents throughout a community who are asymptomatic. Another point: There is a remarkable dearth of data related to how Alzheimer’s affects Mexican Americans. O’Bryant says fewer than 2 percent of participants in Alzheimer’s studies identify as Hispanic, making the need for further research targeted at them imperative.
“Honestly, we’re simply following the same approach that has led to tremendous success in cancer, heart disease, and even HIV,” he says. “These other diseases, people have found cures! Not just ways of slowing onset, but ways to truly cure disease. It’s because of this personalized precision medicine.”
The last time we checked in with the bodybuilding professor and researcher, he was just launching the HABLE study. It was a partnership with the community in Fort Worth—O’Bryant’s team connected with churches and community centers to identify potential participants. They wound up with a sample of 600 (the study used 284 of them.) The researchers took blood from the participants, analyzed the makeup, then recorded it and handed it back to them. This allows the patient to give the sample to a physician, who can suggest treatment options to help fight against the onset of a preventable disease, like diabetes.
“Many people have gotten on therapies because of the results from this study, it’s absolutely amazing,” O’Bryant says. “We know we’re doing things that actually help people on a daily basis.”
Next for the researchers: Adding nuance to the data. The study tipped off the presence of mild memory loss, but it also showed that different biomarkers appear at different stages of the disease’s progression. If the team can nail down how the markers interact with one another and the exact point they develop, the therapies can become even more personalized.
“The findings implicate a possible interplay between inflammatory and metabolic processes and additional work is needed to further examine this,” reads the study.
“If you delay the disease by five years, you cut the prevalence of the disease by 50 percent,” O’Bryant says. “Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging. If you delay it by five years, 50 percent of the people who would have the disease are going to die from something else. They will never experience the horrific pathway of Alzheimer’s. If I can delay it five years for something that is a kinder death, I am very happy about that.”