Researchers May Have Found Way to Screen for Alzheimer's

A major study has found that checking the levels of two proteins found in spinal fluid could help identify people with Alzheimer''s disease.

Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that levels of two key indicators in spinal fluid distinguished clinically diagnosed Alzheimer''s patients from controls with 89-92 percent efficiency. This accuracy is equal to or better than current clinical diagnostic methods, such as doctor''s evaluation of medical history, cognitive testing, and brain scans.

However, the potential telltale signs, or biomarkers, won't be ready for use as predictive and diagnostic tools until completion of long-term studies now underway. In addition, for both measures, the researchers found considerable overlap in levels between the Alzheimer's patients and control groups.

'Perhaps the most important future use for such biomarkers is in the prospective study of people at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease,' noted Trey Sunderland, M.D., Chief, NIMH Geriatric Psychiatry Branch, and one of the study''s authors. 'By establishing a person's baseline and tracking levels over time, we might be able to interpret gradual changes as a sign that he or she is developing the disorder.'

The researchers report on their study in the April 23, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In a related development, a Massachusetts research team has discovered that one of the proteins tested in the NIMH study, which forms plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer''s disease, can also be detected in the lens of the human eye. The observation, published in the April 12 issue of The Lancet, could lead to the development of a non-invasive test to diagnose and track the development of Alzheimer''s.

To read the NIMH press release, go to:

For the JAMA abstract, go to:

For a press release on the Massachusetts eye study, go to: