Dr. Howard J. Federoff, professor of neurology and executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, said the test identifies 10 lipids, or fats, in the blood that predict disease onset. It could be ready for use in clinical studies in as few as two years, he added.
"Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder," Federoff said in a statement.
There is no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer's. Federoff explained there were many efforts to develop drugs to slow or reverse the progression of Alzheimer's disease, but all failed. He says one reason might be the drugs were evaluated too late in the disease process.
The study involved 525 healthy participants age 70 and older who gave blood samples upon enrolling and at various points in the study. Over the course of the five-year study, 74 participants met the criteria for either mild Alzheimer's disease or a condition known as amnestic mild cognitive impairment, in which memory loss is prominent.
A panel of 10 lipids was discovered, which researchers say appears to reveal the breakdown of neural cell membranes in participants who develop symptoms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.
"The lipid panel was able to distinguish with 90 percent accuracy these two distinct groups: cognitively normal participants who would progress to amnestic mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease within two to three years, and those who would remain normal in the near future," Federoff said.
"We consider our results a major step toward the commercialization of a preclinical disease biomarker test that could be useful for large-scale screening to identify at-risk individuals."
The findings were published in Nature Medicine.