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2018 Alzheimer's Association Clinician Scientist Fellowship (AACSF)

Serum Biomarkers for Predicting Cognitive Decline and Dementia

Do changes of certain molecules in the blood associate with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s later in life?

Emer McGrath, M.D.
Brigham and Women's Hospital, Inc.
Boston, MA - United States


Blood tests can be a relatively low-cost, minimally invasive approach to tracking disease progression. Scientists can use blood samples to measure changes in certain biological markers or “biomarkers” that may be associated with a condition or disease. However, doctors must know which biomarkers to look for inside blood samples in order to draw meaningful conclusions.

To help identify what biomarkers are meaningful researchers can use bioinformatics to search large clinical databases for potential biomarkers associated with diseases. Potential biomarkers could include genes, proteins, metabolites, or lipids (fat molecules) that are elevated in people experiencing certain diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Biomarkers that can be measured in the blood could serve as practical diagnostic tools or predictors of a person’s risk of disease. However, any new biomarker must first be validated against other established risk assessments.

Research Plan

Dr. Emer McGrath and colleagues have identified seven molecules in the blood that could be associated with cognitive disease, based on preliminary studies. They propose to test whether or not high levels of these molecules in the blood are also associated with a greater risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, memory decline, or loss of brain tissue (as measured by magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI). The researchers will use blood and clinical samples collected during a long-term, ongoing study to determine if people with high levels of the biomarker develop cognitive problems later in life.


If successful, this study may reveal a grouping of new biomarkers in blood that could help identify people at increased risk of Alzheimer's at an early stage. By detecting Alzheimer's early using blood tests, we may be able to better treat people with the disease. And with early detection when we have new therapies we will be in a better position to know who needs treatment at the earliest time point.

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