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Fighting Alzheimer's

How Diagnostics Are Changing the Game for Alzheimer’s Research

Alzheimer’s research has progressed dramatically in the past 10 years. A major contributor to that progress has been advances in diagnostic tools that can help identify specific changes in the brain consistent with Alzheimer’s.  

These diagnostic tools, or “biomarkers,” are biological indicators that can help us tell whether someone has Alzheimer’s and how the disease is progressing. Biomarkers are used throughout medicine; for example, blood sugar tests can diagnose diabetes and monitor how a patient is controlling their disease.

The challenge for Alzheimer’s is that it is a complex disease caused by an array of contributing biological factors that weaken as we age. We need to find a range of biomarkers that measure and monitor all these factors.

Detecting Alzheimer’s

Just 10 years ago, there was no way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s in living human patients. The hallmarks of Alzheimer’s — the accumulation of proteins called beta amyloid plaques and the folds of tau proteins in the brain — could be detected only through autopsy.

In 2012, the FDA approved the first biomarker test for Alzheimer’s, the Amyvid™ PET scan, which measures amyloid plaques in the brain. This test was used in the clinical trials that led to approval of Aduhelm earlier this year, the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 17 years. And just this past year, we saw a simple blood test, PrecivityAD™, come to clinic that can accurately measure and predict whether someone has amyloid plaques in the brain using as little as a teaspoon of blood.

These revolutionary advances are exciting steps for the field, but they are just the beginning. Development of the next era of biomarkers is already well underway and includes eye scans, digital tools using smartphone apps and wearable devices, and blood tests measuring biomarkers beyond amyloid. With these new diagnostic tools at our fingertips, the future of Alzheimer’s research is bright.

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