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Japan research team finds way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease by examining blood drop

NAGOYA -- A research team led by Nagoya City University has discovered a marker that allows Alzheimer's disease diagnoses by examining just a drop of blood.

Researchers say the marker also enables the detection of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a stage prior to Alzheimer's disease. The research outcome was published last month in a U.S. journal specializing in Alzheimer's disease.

It has been known that amyloid-beta protein accumulates on the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients at least 20 years before they develop the symptoms of the illness.

During research into Alzheimer's disease, the research team found in 2016 that if amyloid-beta protein is injected into cells, it causes the release of flotillin, a kind of protein, to decrease.

The team then paid attention to flotillin as a possible marker for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis.

The researchers analyzed the blood of 15 people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease through medical imaging and 15 others who were not. They found the density of flotillin in the blood of those who were diagnosed with the disease was much lower than that of those who were not. Similar phenomenon was observed in patients with MCI.

Currently, Alzheimer's disease diagnosis is conducted by examining patients' bone marrow fluid and through positron emission tomography (PET). Bone marrow fluid tests have a heavy physical burden on patients. Devices and drugs used in PET are expensive and such tests can be conducted at limited medical institutions.

Other researchers are also working on the use of blood markers for Alzheimer's disease diagnoses but the Nagoya City University team is the first one that uses flotillin. Compared to other methods, researchers say it easier and inexpensive to use flotillin.

Nagoya City University professor Makoto Michikawa, who leads the team, is aspiring to put the method into practical use at an early date.

"We need to examine the method in many more patients. A drug to treat Alzheimer's disease has been developed in the United States, and it is increasingly necessary to detect the disease at an early stage. We're working to put the marker into production, and we'd like to put it into practical use within two or three years," he said.

(Japanese original by Takayo Hosokawa, Nagoya News Center)

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