Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say they have found that a test using spinal fluid can accurately identify individuals who will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report in the New York Times
The researchers’ study analyzed spinal fluid from 300 subjects looking for amyloid beta and tau proteins, according to the paper. Amyloid forms plaques in the the brain, while tau accumulates in dead and dying nerve cells in the brain.
The Gray Lady reported that the research included 114 people with normal memories, 200 with mild cognitive impairment and 102 with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the research, which will appear Tuesday in the Archives of Neurology, almost every brain studied with Alzheimer’s had protein levels that correspond with the disease, while nearly three quarters of the subjects with a memory impediment that can precede Alzheimer’s had Alzheimer’s-like spinal fluid proteins. Every one of those patients developed the disease within five years.
According to the Times, investigators now agree that Alzheimer’s starts a decade or more before people have symptoms, but until recently doctors could only confirm the disease through autopsies.
The new method raises the ethical and legal questions that have come with the rising field of predictive medicine.