Currently, only an autopsy can confirm if a person had Alzheimer’s disease, by searching for the unusual plaque build-up in the brains of those with the memory-wasting disease, as well as abnormal “tangles” of protein found inside brain cells. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include partial or complete memory loss, sometimes violent outbursts, and a retreat of the individual’s personality. But positron emission tomography, which provides a 3D image inside the body, is used with considerable accuracy to detect Alzheimer’s in various stages, although the test is costly and generally requires access to a large medical center. A spinal tap, in which a large needle withdraws spinal fluid, is another test, but it’s painful and lacks precision. “The tests have a lot of complex technology,” said Jerome Yesavage, a psychiatry professor at Stanford who also treats Alzheimer’s patients at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Palo Alto. “Where this is going is to develop essentially a blood test for Alzheimer’s,” he said of the new approach. Yesavage was also involved in the study. If the blood test holds up to larger and more vigorous clinical trials, it would fill an urgent need for a simple, accurate test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s before its advanced stages. Currently, nearly 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and experts predict its prevalence may triple by 2050 due to an aging population. The projected costs for caring for this cognitively-impaired population are also staggering. While therapeutic options are now slim for slowing Alzheimer’s advance, and none exist for stopping or reversing it, that limited arsenal is more effective when it’s employed early on the course of the disease. Yesavage said when he detects early Alzheimer’s, he prescribes one of the handful of drugs on the market for treating the disease, which is shown to delay its onset. Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging and a national expert on Alzheimer’s disease, said he saw a patient last week with incipient Alzheimer’s disease, and noted that her husband was making certain she was eating well and exercising. “The evidence suggests it could delay the onset of the disease,” Small said of such lifestyle changes. Small cautioned that, given the small size of the group studied, it’s too soon to tell if the experimental test will pan out for clinical use. “Before we can draw any conclusions, we need a larger number of subjects,” he said. “But I think it’s promising.” Satoris also plans to expand testing on the experimental blood analysis. An immediate benefit of the test, even in its experimental phase, may be its role in aiding drug development, the experts said. Unless researchers have a cellular “marker” to measure, like one of the 18 proteins, it’s very difficult to test the effectiveness of a potential treatment. But with such a cellular marker, scientists can measure its rise or fall, based on a course of treatment. “We’re on the brink of having some very important medical advances” for treating Alzheimer’s disease, said Small. “With a new chemical marker, we can test a new drug in an animal, and move it right into clinical trials.” In addition, the approach of monitoring cellular communication to detect abnormalities could aid in early detection of other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Versaggi said. “There’s a lot of promise for all those neurological diseases,” he said. [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! An international team of researchers believe they’ve found a simple blood test for detecting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, long before its victims are robbed of their memory, personality and dignity. The scientists identified a type of “cellular chatter” that reveals early evidence of the disease, providing a chance to interfere in its progress, according to a study released online today in the British journal Nature Medicine. “It’s like eavesdropping on a terrorist network,” said Charles Versaggi, a spokesman for Satoris, a San Francisco-based biotechnology firm working with the international team to commercialize the now-experimental test to detect cross-talk between destructive cellular agents. Using a blood sample, the researchers honed in on 18 proteins that play roles in an elaborate cellular communication system driven by chemical signals. In people in both early and advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, they found, these 18 proteins sent unusual messages. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.“Our technology enables us to `listen’ to the chatter of cells communicating with each other, and determine if there’s anything abnormal,” said Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, a Stanford University professor of neurology, and co-founder of Sartoris. The study reported on blood tests from 259 people with symptoms ranging from early onset of Alzheimer’s disease to full-blown cases, as well as those without the disease. Among those with advanced Alzheimer’s, the blood test was 90 percent accurate in confirming the diagnosis. For 47 people with mild cognitive impairment who were monitored between two and six years, the test was 91 percent accurate in predicting which individuals would develop Alzheimer’s, according to the study. Of the 25 authors of the article, six other contributors work at Stanford. Researchers with the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, University of California-San Diego, Oregon Health and Science University, and two European universities also contributed to the study. The company expects to market the test for research purposes in early 2008, and for use by doctors’ offices in approximately two to three years if it passes additional research scrutiny and regulatory requirements, Versaggi said.