UBC part of new Alzheimer's disease diagnostic test

Earlier and more accurate diagnosis of the disease will give patients and families more time to plan, says principal investigator Dr. Mari DeMarco.

Postmedia News 2 minute read December 19, 2021

More than 500,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia and that number is projected to double by 2031 due to an ageing population. ThitareeSarmkasat / iStock/Getty Images

A diagnostic test to identify Alzheimer’s disease is available for the first time in Canada, thanks in part to work done by researchers at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

In a prepared statement, principal investigator Dr. Mari DeMarco — a clinical associate professor at UBC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and clinical chemist at Providence Health Care — said the test measured proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

DeMarco said that in Alzheimer’s disease, the proteins amyloid-beta and tau clump together in the brain to form “amyloid plaques and tau tangles,” respectively.

“As it is not possible to see these clumps using regular imaging techniques, the new test measures protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid, using them as biomarkers that help determine if a person’s declining brain health is likely due to Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

More than 500,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia and that number is projected to double by 2031 due to an ageing population.

“This is an urgent and rapidly growing health-care issue,” said DeMarco, adding the test could assist with earlier and more accurate diagnosis of the disease, giving patients and their families more time to plan and more timely access to health care and community services.

The UBC researchers were part of a Canada-wide team and developed a key component of the biomarker test.

The test must be ordered by doctors specializing in dementia care, who can recommend it for people with mild to moderate symptoms that are suspected to caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

As part of the study, patients were also able to provide their perspective on how the test results impacted their lives.

“Our aim is to gain a better understanding of how this testing impacts personal and medical decision making, and health care costs. We want to inform positive change in the Canadian health care system and improve care and support for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families,” said Dr. DeMarco.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

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