March 6 (UPI) -- It may be possible to predict risk for dementia based on biomarkers in blood samples, according to a new study by researchers in Texas.
Small molecules called metabolites in blood samples drawn from 22,623 individuals in eight cohort studies in five countries, including 995 people who went on to develop dementia, appear to reveal risk for developing dementia.
While metabolite molecules can be modified through diet and drugs, and researchers must still determine if they play a causal role in dementia or are just indicators of the developing condition, they are there and likely have a connection to dementia.
"I hope that people reading about this study will understand that they can take ownership of their health," Dr. Sudha Seshadri, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's & Neurodegenerative Diseases in San Antonio, said in a press release. "The lifestyle decisions they make, such as adopting a Mediterranean or other healthful diet, can affect these metabolites in ways we do not fully understand."
Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia in the United States. An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's and it's the fifth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"However, despite over two decades of research on animal models and clinical trials, we still have no effective prevention or disease-modifying therapy for late-onset clinical dementia and AD," the Texas researchers wrote in the study.
The altered metabolite signatures were observed several years before healthy patients in the previous studies were diagnosed with dementia, Seshadri said.
Researchers report that higher blood concentrations of branched-chain amino acids were linked to a lower risk for dementia, and creatinine and two low-density lipoprotein specific lipoprotein lipid subclasses were also linked to lower risk of dementia.
High-density lipoprotein, known as HDL, and a VLDL lipoprotein subclass, on the other hand, were linked with increased dementia risk.
The Glenn Biggs Institute hopes to develop a diagnostic exam, such as a blood test, to assess each patient's molecular signature of dementia risk.
Age has been the No. 1 risk factor with symptoms not appearing until after age 60 for 90 percent of Alzheimer's patients, according to the CDC.
"It is now recognized that we need to look beyond the traditionally studied amyloid and tau pathways and understand the entire spectrum of pathology involved in persons who present with symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias," Seshadri said. "It is exciting to find new biomarkers that can help us identify persons who are at the highest risk of dementia."