Scientists at Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute [BRNI] have isolated substances in the skin that can help provide an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. BRNI scientific director Daniel Alkon says, while patients may show symptoms of the disease, only an autopsy can positively identify the neurological disorder. "[By] having an early diagnosis with more certainty," he explains, "we can offer the possibility of finding new drugs that will make a difference [in treating the disease] and then ultimately to using those new drugs to make a difference in patients' lives."
The presence of certain enzymes in the skin allows doctors to distinguish between Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Alkon says researchers analyzed these molecular biomarkers in samples from a tissue bank and from autopsies from confirmed Alzheimer's cases. "For those cases that made the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease both clinically and with a molecular biomarker, the autopsy validation agreed in 19 out of 20 cases or 95%."
Alkon says a skin test for a brain disorder has a valid biological basis. "The accumulating evidence is that Alzheimer's disease, even though it is causing symptoms in the brain, is actually causing abnormalities in the skin even though it doesn't produce any symptoms in the skin." And, he says, "There is a parallelism that apparently exists between what is going on in the skin and what is going on in the brain."
Researchers plan to expand clinical trails to further validate the initial results. Alkon explains, "What we can do if we scale up with thousands of patients in the trials is we can start to follow the progression of the cases, and then we can hopefully confirm this test for everyone. So, what we see is that this could useful very soon in a clinical setting as a way of confirming with great certainty a doctor's diagnosis of this disease."
Alkon hopes the diagnostic test will be on the market within a few years. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.