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Blood test holds promise in Alzheimer's detection

SAN JOSE, Calif. (MCT) — A San Francisco company's blood test shows promise in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease — as well as predicting who will succumb to the brain-disabling ailment — according to researchers at Stanford University and several other institutions.

For a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine, the test developed by Satoris was used to examine more than 200 samples of blood taken from people already diagnosed with Alzheimer's and others unaffected by the disease. To assess the test's ability to predict the disease, the U.S. and European scientists also checked blood drawn from people with mild cognitive impairments two to six years before the patients developed Alzheimer's.

The test — which spots Alzheimer's by detecting unusual activity in 18 proteins associated with the disease — was determined to be 90 percent correct in diagnosing the malady and 91 percent accurate in predicting who will be afflicted by it, according to the study.

"It's quite exciting," said Dr. Lennart Mucke, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease. Mucke didn't participate in the study but was familiar with it.

While cautioning that the test needs to be validated in larger studies, he added, "it does look very promising."

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, which affects more than 4.5 million people in this country, according to the National Institute on Aging. And detecting the condition can be difficult.

In most cases, doctors who suspect a patient's mental decline is due to Alzheimer's use a less-than-perfect process of elimination in diagnosing the disease, essentially weeding out stroke, tumors, alcoholism and other possible causes. But while specialists at major medical centers generally are able to do such a diagnosis, doctors elsewhere sometimes have trouble spotting Alzheimer's — especially in its early stages, experts say.

Another relatively reliable tool for detecting Alzheimer's is to check the patient's spinal fluid for biological factors associated with the disease. But that is so physically intrusive, doctors and patients often are reluctant to try the procedure.

That's why having a simple blood test to detect Alzheimer's would be invaluable, said Dr. Todd Golde, chairman of the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic's neuroscience department and a Satoris scientific adviser who wasn't part of the study. Moreover, because major brain damage often has occurred by the time Alzheimer's is diagnosed, he said, "we need to be able to predict who's going to get this disease."

Patrick Lynn, Satoris' chief executive, said he hopes by next year to begin selling the test to laboratories, which wouldn't require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. He hopes to win the FDA's OK to sell it for general use by 2009.

Among the leaders of the study was Tony Wyss-Coray, an associate professor of neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine, who helped found Satoris in 2003. Other participating institutions included the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, the University of California-San Diego, the Oregon Health & Science University and the University of Genoa in Italy.