A simple test offers hope

A simple urine test to determine a patient’s chances for developing Alzheimer’s disease has been developed by researchers in the School of Medicine. “This is the first noninvasive test that can predict a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Domenico Praticò, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology.

In a study published in the June edition of Archives of Neurology, Praticò and his colleagues found that their test, which reliably detects fatty acids called isoprostanes, revealed significantly higher levels in the urine, blood and cerebral spinal fluid of subjects with either Alzheimer’s disease or its precursor, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Like cholesterol, which serves as a marker for clogged arteries and heart disease, isoprostanes provide researchers and clinicians with a marker for the progress of “a disease that itself has too slow a process to measure,” said Praticò. “It will tell if the treatment is working.”

The test identifies subjects with MCI, who are at risk for developing the disease, as well as subjects who already have Alzheimer’s.

Patients diagnosed with MCI typically show persistent memory loss that is not normal for someone of their age and education. Although their memory is impaired, MCI patients are capable of living largely independent lives. About 10 percent

of MCI patients will develop Alzheimer’s within a year, said Praticò. In four years, 40 to 45 percent will have developed Alzheimer’s, and 10 percent will have developed other forms of dementia. About 30 percent never develop anything at all.

Praticò said the test might be available for clinical use in a couple of years. “It will be easy and cheap,” he said. And by then, he said, a better treatment for the so-far incurable disease might be available.

Originally published on September 19, 2002