Brain challenge test might be able to predict Alzheimer's decades earlier

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Someday, a simple test at the computer and non-invasive EEG scan may do the same thing as a spinal fluid test. (KFSN)

Right now, a spinal fluid test can signal Alzheimer's disease up to twenty years before clinical onset. The proteins beta-amyloid and tau are established markers of Alzheimer's, and changes in their levels may signal disease. Someday, a simple test at the computer and non-invasive EEG scan may do the same thing.

Eighty-nine-year-old Anne Snyder knows Alzheimer's disease. It killed Frank, her husband of 61 years. It's why she joined an early Alzheimer's detection study at Huntington Medical Research Institutes.

Snyder told Ivanhoe, "I think it's one little thing I can do that may help. It's totally irrational, but I feel like I'm helping him."

Michael Harrington, M.D., director of Neurosciences Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Los Angeles, California, created a brain challenge to find biomarkers for Alzheimer's decades before symptoms start. Participants take tests while wearing a cap that tracks brain activity.

Dr. Harrington explained, "You can pick up early heart disease by running on a treadmill. We'd like to do the same for the brain, except you don't run the brain on a treadmill, you ask it few questions, and that's how this developed."

EEGs of participants with bad chemistry show they work harder to answer the same questions as the others. Bad means their spinal fluid shows changes in beta amyloid and tau levels.

Dr. Harrington said, "If we can show that it's got the rigor to do an equivalent detection, you wouldn't need to have a spinal tap. You wouldn't need expensive PET imaging."

Snyder sees even more potential.

"I think it's terribly important because then it might be easier to do something, if not to prevent it, then at least slow it down," said Snyder.

She said Frank would have approved.

This study is six months old and only has six participants so far. Dr. Harrington plans to add many more people and to follow them for years. His only restraint is finding more funding.

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