January 6, 2011 / 5:01 PM / 10 years ago

Test may detect Alzheimer's in blood-US study

* Technology spotted antibodies for disease in blood

* Findings need to be confirmed

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Jan 6 (Reuters) - U.S. researchers have developed a way to harness the immune system to test for Alzheimer’s, an approach they say could lead to a blood test for the disease within months.

A study of the technology showed it accurately spotted Alzheimer’s in blood samples from six people with the disease, Thomas Kodadek of the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, wrote on Thursday in the journal Cell.

The approach may work in other diseases, like cancer, Kodadek said in a telephone interview.

The test looks for antibodies, or immune-system proteins, that help the body attack foreign invaders.

Antibodies fight off infections but Kodadek said researchers are beginning to think that most diseases cause changes in cells that make the body see the cells as foreign invaders.

He believes the body may produce antibodies in response to a range of diseases and would like to develop blood tests that look for them.

His team used laboratory-made molecules called peptoids as antigen surrogates to screen for antibodies specific to Alzheimer’s disease.

Three of them reacted strongly to the blood of the six patients with Alzheimer’s disease, but not with blood from healthy people.

Kodadek said he has since tested more samples, including samples from people with mild cognitive impairment, an early sign of Alzheimer’s, and the test is holding up.

Kodadek has licensed the technology to Miami-based OPKO Health Inc (OPK.A), which will develop diagnostic kits, which he thinks could be available in six to seven months.

“The immediate utility of that is to help pharmaceutical companies stratify patients for clinical trials,” he said.

The team has tried to determine whether the test can distinguish among different neurodegenerative diseases, like lupus and Parkinson’s. “We’ve even looked at a couple of other forms of dementia. These really do appear to be quite specific to Alzheimer’s,” Kodadek said.

They also used the test on blood from 200 elderly people not suffering from dementia and found 8 percent had elevated concentrations of the same antibodies found in Alzheimer’s patients, which suggests the test may work as an early predictor of disease.

Other researchers said the findings are encouraging, but preliminary, and need to be confirmed.

“This exciting study has significant implications for advancing understanding and treatments of diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Bryce Vissel, head of research into neurodegenerative diseases at The Garvan Institute in Sydney, Australia, said in a statement.

Kodadek’s test is different from others being developed for Alzheimer’s, an incurable brain disease that is the most common form of dementia. The disease is diagnosed by symptoms, and only confirmed by brain examination after death.

In September, a team at Texas Tech University said it had developed a blood test for Alzheimer’s.

Other teams have shown spinal fluid tests can detect early Alzheimer’s. Imaging companies like General Electric’s (GE.N) GE Healthcare and Germany’s Bayer (BAYGn.DE) are developing imaging agents to detect Alzheimer’s-related proteins on PET scanners — special cameras that produce images of organ and tissue function in the body [ID:nN11108128].

No drugs can arrest Alzheimer’s. Treating dementia costs about $604 billion globally, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. (Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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