A single protein in the blood that acts as a warning for mild cognitive impairment, a disorder that is the precursor to dementia, was identified by a breakthrough research funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the Translational Psychiatry journal.
1,100 proteins in the blood of 106 pairs of twins were monitored by researchers over a period of ten years. Those whose thinking skills diminished the most were discovered by them to have lower levels of an individual protein.
Though still at an early stage, scientists hope the research could be developed into a test for early detection of those at risk of developing dementia. Currently, there is no proven treatment for prevention of Alzheimer’s, but doctors hope that identification of those who are most at risk may fast track the search for new drugs that could prevent or delay the onset of this devastating brain disease.
Dubbed MAPKAPK5, the protein lowered for those individuals whose cognitive ability degenerated over a period of ten-year. By studying identical twins, who share the same genes, scientists were able to determine that the link between the protein and cognition was separate from age and genetics.
Currently, Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed only when their memories start to be impaired. Brain scans, although expensive, are able to show visible signs of the disease before any symptoms.
Dr Steven Kiddle of King’s College London an the study author said, “Although we are still searching for an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, what we do know is that prevention of the disease is likely to be more effective than trying to reverse it.”
He added, “The next step will be to replicate our finding in an independent study, and to confirm whether or not it is specific for Alzheimer’s disease, as this could lead to the development of a reliable blood test which would help clinicians identify suitable people for prevention trials.”
A senior lecturer in the research on twins at the King’s College London, Dr Claire Steves said, “We’re very optimistic that our research has the potential to benefit the lives of those who don’t have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but are at risk of developing the disease.”