One of the great debates when it comes to health is, would you rather know you have a condition before it develops or is ignorance bliss?
The benefits of knowing are that you can get your healthcare plan in place immediately and potentially start seeking treatment before it is too late.
This is why a blood test that could detect Alzheimer’s years before symptoms first appear is a huge breakthrough for people who prefer to know the fate of their health.
It is not only Alzheimer’s that could be diagnosed this way, but also a whole range of neurodegenerative diseases and brain disorders too.
This could save vast amounts of time, stress and money for people who often experience early symptoms – such as dizziness or falls – and are left wondering what is wrong with them as doctors scratch their heads without a clear diagnostic tool.
Lee Euler, a health writer and author of Awakening from Alzheimer’s, says it is all thanks to a recently discovered human protein called neurofilament light (NfL).
Lee explained: “Researchers found that NfL is highly expressed in nerve fibres and is linked to a wide range of neurological diseases.
“Many brain disorders result in irreversible damage to nerve fibres within the brain. When this damage happens, NfL is released.”
Now, researchers at Lund University in Sweden say they’ve proven that testing NfL levels in the blood can diagnose dementia as well as other neurological diseases.
During their studies, they examined blood samples from a range of participants who were either cognitively unimpaired, diagnosed with depression, had Down syndrome, or suffered from one of 13 neurodegenerative disorders.
The results showed concentrations of NfL in blood were higher across all neurodegenerative disorders when compared to blood of the cognitively healthy.
Dr Abdul Hye, one of the study’s leading authors, said for the first time ever they have shown that a single biomarker can indicate the presence of underlying neurodegeneration with “excellent accuracy”.
Speaking about their triumph, he said: “It could help in services such as memory clinics as a rapid screening tool to identify whether memory, thinking or psychiatric problems are a result of neurodegeneration.”
Another reason that the blood test is being hailed as so successful is because it can distinguish atypical Parkinsonism from Parkinson’s disease.
Atypical Parkinsonism is an umbrella term for conditions like Progressive Supranuclear Palsy [PSP] and Corticobasal Degeneration [CBD] that are often misdiagnosed in early stages due to onset symptoms appearing similar to Parkinson’s – despite being very different and progressing more like Motor Neurone Disease.
While some European countries, such as Sweden, are introducing the NfL test as a tool for diagnosing brain disorders, it is yet to be rolled-out globally.
However, being cheap and accurate, surely it is only a matter of time before they replace invasive spinal tap procedures, brain scans, and unreliable cognitive tests.