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More than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s. Currently, drugs only temporarily ease symptoms and do not slow mental decline.

The monstrous disease is usually diagnosed through tests of memory and thinking skills, which is at best, imprecise, and usually involves a neurologist’s referral. More reliable methods such as spinal fluid tests and brain scans are invasive or expensive, so a simple blood test that could be done in a family doctor’s office would be a massive help.

Which is why this is so exciting…

A new experimental blood test has proven to be highly accurate at distinguishing people with Alzheimer’s disease from those without it in several studies. Researchers are cautiously hopeful that this may be a simple way to help diagnose this most common form of dementia. However, they warn that the new approach still needs more substantiation and is not ready for wide use.

Still, they’re clearly headed in the right direction. The new blood test’s accuracy rate ranges from 89%-98% in identifying people with Alzheimer’s vs. no dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer, Maria Carrillo, remarked, “That’s pretty good. We’ve never seen that” much precision in previous efforts.” Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the National Institute on Aging, agreed stating, “The data looks very encouraging…The new testing appears to be even more sensitive and more reliable than earlier methods, but it needs to be tried in larger, more diverse populations.”

The institute itself had no role in these studies but funded earlier research toward blood test development. Some of the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Last year, researchers found optimistic results from experimental blood tests that measure irregular forms of amyloid, one of two proteins that develop and damage Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. The new work centers around the other protein — tau — and finds that one type of it called p-tau217 is a more dependable indicator. A few organizations and colleges in Sweden, St. Louis, and Arizona have created experimental p-tau217 tests.

The p-tau217 test outperformed a large group of different measures for demonstrating which patients had Alzheimer’s as confirmed by brain scans. It was similar to the brain scans and some spinal tests in accuracy.

Suzanne Schindler of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said, “When patients come to me with changes in their memory and thinking, one of the major questions is, what’s the cause? Is it Alzheimer’s disease, or is it something else?”

She said if tau testing bears out, “it would help us diagnose people earlier and more accurately.”

Schindler has already launched a more extensive study in a diverse population in St. Louis. Researchers have done the same in Sweden.

If benefits are confirmed, scientists say they hope a commercial test would be ready for widespread use in about two years.