Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, Washington, US, have developed a new blood test for the detection of a ‘toxic’ protein years before the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

The laboratory test, developed by the university’s team, measures levels of amyloid beta oligomers in blood samples.

Amyloid beta proteins are said to misfold and clump together to form small aggregates known as oligomers, which are believed to develop into Alzheimer’s.

The UW team assessed the test on blood samples obtained from 310 research subjects.

These subjects had made their blood samples, as well as some of their medical records, available earlier for research on Alzheimer’s.

The test, dubbed SOBA, performed the detection of oligomers in the blood of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Oligomers were also detected by SOBA in the blood of 11 individuals from the control group, which was composed of individuals with no signs of cognitive impairment.

The follow-up examination records for ten of these individuals revealed that years later they were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or brain pathology consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

The test had identified the toxic oligomers before the disease symptoms had surfaced for these ten individuals.

UW bioengineering professor Valerie Daggett said: “We are finding that many human diseases are associated with the accumulation of toxic oligomers that form these alpha sheet structures.

“Not just Alzheimer’s, but also Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes and more. SOBA is picking up that unique alpha sheet structure, so we hope that this method can help in diagnosing and studying many other ‘protein misfolding’ diseases.”

Daggett’s team is now working with scientists at AltPep, a UW spinout entity, for the development of SOBA into a diagnostic test for oligomers.