Researchers identify blood protein linked to cognitive decline

Researchers may have identified a blood protein that could effectively predict a patient's risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), linked to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, years before the appearance of the first symptoms of the condition.

Researchers studied data from over 100 sets of identical twins and identified a single blood protein associated with a 10-year decline in cognitive ability independent of age or genetics, King's College London reported.

According to co-author Claire Stevens, the researchers were very optimistic that their research had the potential to benefit the lives of those who currently had no symptoms of Alzheimer's, but were at risk of developing the disease.

In the largest-of-its-kind study over 1,000 proteins in the blood of more than 200 healthy people were studied with the lab test SOMAscan, which measures a vast number of simultaneously.

They assessed the patients' cognitive ability and compared the results with the blood sample analyses and for the first time the researchers revealed blood levels of a protein called MAPKAPK5 tended to be lower in individuals whose cognitive ability started to decline within a period of 10 years.

"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," said Steven Kiddle, lead author and Biostatistics Research Fellow at the MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King's College London.

"The next step will be to confirm whether or not our initial finding 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."

The condition is diagnosed in patients only when they start to lose their memory and thousands are said to be living without a diagnosis. Although visible signs of the disease do show in brain scans before the onset of symptoms, these are expensive.

Currently there are no treatments to prevent Alzheimer's, though doctors say identifying those most at risk might give patients and their families more time to prepare.

The discovery would also would speed up the search for new drugs and could also help or even prevent the devastating brain disease.