“Catch it early”: Chileans develop pioneering blood test to detect cognitive impairment

One of the main challenges in the current approach to dementia is that it is diagnosed when the patient already has intense symptoms of the disease, and there is little that can be done to slow its progression.

That is why scientists have been trying for years to find ways to detect early signs of this pathology.

As part of this search, a team of researchers from the IMPACT center of the Universidad de los Andes (dedicated to cell therapy research) is developing a pioneering blood test to detect early cognitive deterioration, which is the stage before the onset of dementia.

In an interview with “El Mercurio,” the neuroscientist and leader of the project, Alejandro Luarte, reveals details about the development and progress of the promising tool.

“We are creating a new diagnostic strategy, which consists of a blood test to detect cognitive impairment subtypes,” explains Luarte. “This is very important because there are two main types, amnestic and non-amnestic, and when the person has the former, it is very likely that in three or four years, they will develop Alzheimer ‘s-type dementia. On the other hand, if they have the non-amnestic type, they may have a different pathology in the future, such as Parkinson’s disease”.

Something relevant, the researcher explains, is that this tool would become the only way to discriminate between these subtypes in blood.

“Currently, this is done using cognitive tests or behavioral evaluation, but no precise quantitative measurement exists. That’s what we want to achieve with the test.”

The impact of its use would be enormous, says Luarte. He explains why: “If a person knows that they have a profile compatible with amnestic cognitive impairment, they can join a clinical trial or begin to increase the factors that we know are protective against developing dementia and can slow it down, such as doing regular physical activity or increasing intellectual exercise and their social life.

This, the researcher points out, considering that there are currently no drugs to treat Alzheimer’s or cure it.

The neuroscientist explains how the test -which is still in the early stages of development- would work: “What we would do is to study a small blood sample, looking for a particular component that we know comes from the brain. So it’s as if you were taking a direct sample from the patients’ brains.”

Luarte adds, “This blood sample is exposed to a brain cell in the lab to detect morphological changes. How the cell reacts would tell us whether the person has a subtype of cognitive impairment (…) Because this cell reacts to the state of health of the brain, it is like a sensor.”

According to the researcher, this technology based on “cellular sensors” did not exist. “We are the first to be working on it,” he says.

However, Luarte explains that the model has already been successfully tested several years ago to diagnose bipolar disorder and depression. “It has worked well for us, and we believe it can also be a good screening tool for cognitive impairment.”

The researcher says that the changes in the cell are analyzed with the support of artificial intelligence using software that they developed together with Claudio Pérez, an academic at the U. de Chile.

“The AI will tell you which parameters of change the cell presented. The advantage is that this technology processes a large amount of data and can choose parameters that even we humans cannot think of”.

Currently, the neuroscientist and his team are recruiting dozens of participants to start the trials while at the same time, they are working on perfecting the algorithm that will analyze the images of the cells.

The whole process of performing the studies on patients, as well as developing and creating a kit with the test that can be marketed, could take about three years, says Luarte.

In the future, he predicts, it would be expected that the test would be applied to people in a health center, where a blood sample of just 4 milliliters would be taken, and in a couple of days, the diagnosis would be given to them.

“Something key is that perhaps in a few years, there will be early therapies for Alzheimer’s, which is what science is betting on now, and patients could start using them when they have the diagnosis of cognitive deterioration,” comments Luarte.

The researcher points out: “Our goal is that with a simple test, in the future, people will be able to know if they already have amnestic cognitive impairment and start working against dementia.”

Source: El Mercurio – Saturday, September 23, 2023.


Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *

Link of interest
Subscribe to our Newsletter
© 2023 IMPACT – All rights reserved | Designed by Adtopia