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New Alzheimer’s test on its way to Australia

A new blood test that could help identify Alzeimer’s disease is on its way to Australia.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians and in 2020, there is an estimated 459,000 Australians living with dementia. That number is expected to reach 590,000 by 2028 and 1,076,000 by 2058.

A new study in Lancet Neurology shows that the test accurately measures one of the proteins – P-tau181 – implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The protein is one of the markers of the disease along with the plaque caused by the protein amyloid β.

Up until now, discovering these proteins could only be done through expensive PET scans, invasive lumbar punctures, or autopsy.

The test is being introduced to Australia by the Australian Dementia Network, which is supported by the University of Melbourne, and in the coming weeks Australian researchers from the Australian Dementia Network and the AIBL study of Ageing are sending blood samples from Australian participants to Sweden as part of further analysis of the accuracy of the new test.

“We are working with the Swedish team to introduce the blood test to several sites around Australia with the aim of making it available to the Australian community as soon as possible,” said University of Melbourne Professor Christopher Rowe, Director of the Australian Dementia Network.

“This will be initially through the Australian Dementia Network’s affiliated memory clinics to collect the information on accuracy and impact on patient care that is needed to obtain approval for widespread use in the Australian community.”

The cost of dementia in Australia is enormous. In 2020, it is estimated that almost 1.6 million people in Australia are involved in the care of someone living with dementia. And as of 2018 it is estimated to cost Australia approximately $15 billion and 52 per cent of all aged care residents have been diagnosed with dementia.

A successful diagnostic tool would help doctors to diagnose dementia with more certainty and would help provide people with early treatment options.

The blood test was developed at the University of Gothenburg and according to the authors the blood test showed a very good capacity to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other brain diseases, such as frontotemporal dementia and Parkinson’s disease, where the blood level of P-tau181 was entirely normal.

“We believe that, in the future, one very important use of our blood test will be for screening in primary care. We demonstrated this in one of the studies forming part of our article, in which we looked at patients in primary care with concerns about their failing memory,” co-author professor Kal Blennow says.

“We also think the level of P-tau181 in blood plasma may be a very important marker to show and monitor the efficacy of the new drugs against Alzheimer’s that are currently being developed,” says his colleague Henrik Zetterberg.

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