New Atlas reports that Johns Hopkins researchers have found a range of biomarkers that can be used to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease years in advance. Researchers have produced nine measures, generated from decades of data, that can point to the possibility of Alzheimer’s up to 30 years prior to cognitive decline.
The team reviewed 20 years of data from 290 individuals deemed high risk for Alzheimer’s or early-onset dementia based on familiar risk. By the end of the study, more over 81 participants had been diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s disease of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), enabling the team to track the preclinical progress of those conditions across the pre-symptomatic years. Changes and modifications could be tracked—for example, decreases in the size of a brain region called the medial temporal lobe.
Interestingly, cerebrospinal fluid test results signaled the earliest potential biomarkers for the disease. Increases in the tau protein in cerebrospinal fluid could be associated with Alzheimer’s disease around three decades prior to any cognitive impairment materialized. Moreover, proteins such as amyloid beta and phosphorylated tau appeared between 10 and 15 years before symptom onset.
Michael Miller, a biomedical engineer working on the project noted “Several biochemical and anatomic measures can be seen changing up to a decade or more before the onset of clinical symptoms.” This data is limited by sample size and further work is underway to add more data to the model. The Johns Hopkins team has an agreement with five research sites around the globe to collect comparable data.
The researchers hope that it will soon be possible to leverage brain imaging and spinal fluid analysis to assess Alzheimer’s risk at least 10 years prior to common symptoms.