The research, focusing on biomarkers – telltale biological indicators of Alzheimer’s – could help standardise the detection of the disease and increase the accuracy of clinical trials by ensuring those most likely to benefit from drugs or preventions take part.
The first study examined the association between a well-established Alzheimer’s risk gene – APOE4 – age, and a hallmark protein in Alzheimer’s – amyloid – to test the consistency of the relationship across ethnic groups. Led by researchers from Japan, the study took data from three different national populations – the US, Australia and Japan – all three of which include people with Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment and normal individuals.
The team evaluated the influence of the APOE4 risk gene and age on the build up of amyloid in the brain, measured by PET scans. Amongst the three populations, the researchers observed consistency in the way amyloid build-up was affected by the risk gene and age, showing the biomarkers to be consistent across different ethnic groups – crucial for a test to be internationally applicable.
A second study concentrated on the hippocampus, responsible for the formation of new memories and usually the first area of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s. MRI scans have become increasingly important in tracking shrinkage in this area of the brain, which can be useful for diagnosis and measuring disease progress.
Researchers in Italy have been examining and compiling the different approaches to MRI scanning used in worldwide dementia research to measuring volume changes in the hippocampus. The team’s next step is to review the different approaches and draw on the input of an international panel of experts to determine a common protocol.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at the UK’s leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“If we are to effectively test new treatments or preventions, we have to be able detect Alzheimer’s early to get people involved in trials who stand to benefit most. An approach to detection that works consistently across the world is crucial to the global effort to defeat dementia and work towards that goal is to be welcomed.
“Numbers or people living with dementia are spiralling towards a million in the UK alone; research is the only answer to defeating the condition. Investment across all areas of dementia research – diagnosis, prevention and treatment – is urgently needed”.
Alzheimer’s Research UK