Can a blood test measure a person’s risk for specific causes of dementia and other brain disorders?
Hugo Aparicio, M.D., M.P.H.
Boston, MA - United States
Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities that could make daily life challenging. There are many causes of dementia, including vascular (blood vessel) dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s etc. Research suggests that the brain changes associated with vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia start decades before clinical signs, including decline in memory, are evident. Early brain changes in some of these diseases such as vascular dementia may include a decrease in the blood flow to the brain. This could lead to damage throughout the body, including the brain.
Dr. Hugo Aparicio believes that studying blood-based biological markers (biomarkers) for cognitive impairment associated with vascular impairments may help identify these individuals and be an important component of a person’s evaluation for an accurate and early diagnosis.
The researchers will leverage data from a large study of aging and heart health called the Framingham Heart Study. They will analyze blood samples and brain scans (magnetic resonance imaging or MRI) from older participants in the study. The researchers will utilize state-of-the art techniques to measure levels of proteins known to change in vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. These include measuring tau (a key molecular suspect in Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases) and neurofilament light chain (a component of nerve cells that is meant to be a marker for injury to the nervous system).
They will then analyze how different levels of these blood-based measures may be associated with various brain changes seen on the MRI scans, including damage to white matter (the “wiring system” used by brain cells to communicate with one another). Dr. Hugo believes that identifying these associations may give rise to multiple biomarkers that could help predict changes in memory, processing speed and cognitive function or may help to detect early stage dementia.
Furthermore, using data from individuals with vascular brain injury, the researchers will use advanced statistical techniques to study whether blood-based biomarkers along with brain scans can help improve the ability to predict the development of vascular cognitive impairment and dementia in these individuals.
If successful, the results could help develop blood biomarkers to detect dementia at an early stage. Families facing Alzheimer’s now and in the future will benefit greatly from early detection, allowing for important care and planning. Furthermore, when we have new therapies, we will be in a better position to know who needs treatment at the earliest time point.
Back to Top