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OSU study: Alzheimer's biomarkers may open door to better treatment

Special to the Legal News

Published: August 11, 2017

A new study from The Ohio State University has identified a potential new way of confirming the Alzheimer's disease and predicting a patient's outlook.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the team of researchers discovered new physical biomarkers that could help pinpoint a diagnosis - specifically, changes to proteins found in the spinal fluid and blood of patients.

Researchers found as the severity of the disease increased the proteins grew longer, more rigid and more clustered.

They, next, entered these details and others, including patient cognitive assessment scores, into an algorithm designed to rate the severity of illness, and determined they found an equation that could identify disease stages and progression.

"With a tool like this you may predict how fast this disease will go, and currently we can't do that - we just know everyone is different," said lead researcher Mingjun Zhang, a professor of biomedical engineering at Ohio State. "Looking at multiple indicators of the disease all at once increases the reliability of the diagnosis and prognosis."

Information used in the study came from a database of medical information and samples of spinal fluid and blood from patients seen by study co-author Douglas Scharre, a professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry in the Neurological Institute at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, according to a press release announcing the study's publication.

Currently available medications treat only symptoms of the disease and work best with an early diagnosis. Improved diagnostic tools could help doctors sort out more quickly which patients have Alzheimer's disease and which are experiencing cognitive decline for other reasons, Scharre said.

Early evidence from tests of experimental drugs designed to alter the disease indicate that they would work best in the early stages as well, he added.

"A biomarker that shows that in three months, or three weeks even, that this drug is not doing a darn thing or is slowing down the disease will help us to not waste time in finding better treatments," Scharre said.

Doctors treating patients with Alzheimer's disease already consider a number of factors about a given patient in figuring disease stage and predicting how quickly the disease will move.

"We've taken what they do and converted it to a computational model with different weights for different factors," Zhang said. "We're using engineering techniques to look at a human disease process, a dynamic process."

Other Ohio State researchers who collaborated on the study were Tao Yue, Xinghua Jia, Jennifer Petrosino, Leming Sun, Zhen Fan, Jesse Fine and Rebecca Davis.

Scott Galster of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's Air Force Research Laboratory also contributed.

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