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Study finds a new way to predict increased risk of dementia – 20 years before the disease onset

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The study’s findings, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, show that this new method can predict cognitive decline and increased dementia risk 20 years before the disease manifests.

An international research group discovered 15 new biomarkers linked to late-onset dementia in a study.

These biomarkers are proteins that can predict cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia 20 years before symptoms appear. 

Immune system dysfunction, blood-brain barrier dysfunction, vascular pathologies, and central insulin resistance are all linked to these proteins. Six of these proteins can be altered using medications currently available for conditions other than dementia.

“These findings provide novel avenues for further studies to examine whether drugs targeting these proteins could prevent or delay the development of dementia,” said Joni Lindbohm, lead author from the University College London and the University of Helsinki. 

New methods help dementia research

Amyloid-beta and tau proteins have dominated pathophysiological research on dementia etiology, but prevention and treatment trials focusing on these biomarkers have so far failed. This has prompted researchers to look into other possible dementia-predisposing mechanisms.

The recent development of scalable platforms has enabled researchers to examine a wide range of circulating proteins, potentially revealing novel biological processes linked to dementias.

The authors were able to analyse proteins from stored blood samples from the British Whitehall II and US Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) studies collected 20 years ago using a novel large-scale protein panel.

The researchers identified proteins that predicted cognitive decline in 5-yearly screenings and the onset of clinical dementia using a panel of 5,000 proteins measured from plasma. In both the British and American cohorts, the 15 proteins predicted dementia.

More research will help find drug targets 

“This new study is the first step in our 5-year Wellcome Trust funded research programme. We will next examine whether the identified proteins have a causal association with dementia, and whether they are likely to be modifiable, and druggable,” said Professor Mika Kivimäki, one of the study authors and director of the Whitehall II study at University College London. 

The program’s ultimate goal is to find new dementia prevention drug targets.

Globally, around 45 million people have dementia, and that number is expected to double or triple by 2050. The annual cost of dementia care in the USA has risen by 35% since 2015, to nearly $1 billion. It is the fifth leading cause of death globally, and there is no cure.

Image Credit: Getty

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