Could ‘biomarkers’ be the key to predicting Alzheimer’s?

What is a biomarker??  Perhaps a useful tool to diagnose and predict dementia and cognitive decline, studies suggest. AstraZeneca defines the term as “a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacological responses to a therapeutic intervention.”

Because Alzheimer’s disease is complicated to assess or diagnose, researchers have been searching for “biological clues” for years.  
A study aimed at investigating a potential relationship between “plasma beta-amyloid 42 and 42/40 levels and cognitive decline in a large group of community-dwelling older adults without dementia” adds more support for the argument that biomarkers may be a useful tool for doctors.  The biomarkers used by this study: protein framgents.
The study found that older individuals who do not suffer from dementia, but lower levels of “blood plasma and biomarkers beta-amyloid 42/40 (protein fragments),” may be at an increased risk for experiencing cognitive decline. The relationship between cognitive decline and biomarker levels was more profound among less educated participants.  
“[The use of] biomarkers to identify elderly persons at risk of developing dementia could be useful for early prevention, if and when such interventions are available, and treatment,” the author of the study explained. 
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was reported on by Senior Journal today.  That article is available here.  
 What does this mean for the future of biomarker research? 
“Future studies should further explore the use of plasma beta-amyloid as a biomarker, assess the mechanisms by which cognitive reserve modifies this association, and determine whether increasing cognitive reserve through interventions can reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease.” 
In a different study, three specific proteins in cerebrospinal fluid were found to potentially “spot” Alzheimer’s disease.  That study appeared in the Archives of Neurology.  The BusinessWeek article that reported on this study is available here.  Of note, the Senior Director of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association had this to say:
“This just reinforces the recommendation by [Alzheimer’s working groups] saying that biomarkers can actually be incorporated today into clinical practice in order to add a certain piece to the diagnosis if patients are already presenting with something that looks like Alzheimer’s.”
Still another study carried out by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the Texas Alzheimer’s Research Consortium, reported by Ivanhoe Newswire, found that blood serum biomarkers PLUS other clinical information could be used to more accurately classify patients with AD.  Commenting on the importance of such studies, the authors say: “There is clearly a need for reliable and valid diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, and in recent years, there has been an explosive increase of effort aimed at identifying such markers.”
The Texas Tech study authors appear optimistic:
“With the rapidly evolving technology and the analytic techniques available, Alzheimer’s disease researchers now have the tools to simultaneously analyze exponentially more information from a host of modalities, which is likely going to be necessary to understand this very complex disease.”

In other Alzheimer’s related news, CNN reported that Big Pharma companies are uniting to share data:

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.