Beaumont researchers develop blood test that might predict Alzheimer’s disease

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 10, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — Using a technique called precision medicine, researchers at Beaumont Health recently discovered a simple blood test that might provide an early prediction of Alzheimer’s disease in patients.

Led by geneticist Dr. Ray Bahado-Singh, the team used artificial intelligence and deep learning processes to analyze extracted genomic DNA from whole blood samples. Their analysis, published in a March 31 study, identified 152 significant genetic differences in patients with Alzheimer’s compared to healthy patients.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other mental functions through the degeneration of brain cells and brain cell connections. The main symptoms are memory loss and confusion, and approximately 60% of patients are women.

The disease is caused by an accumulation of proteins in the brain that amass and cause inflammation and the death of brain cells. Most patients are not diagnosed until irreversible damage has already occurred. It is thought the brain inflammation triggers the production of white blood cells, or leukocytes, which then become genetically altered while battling the disease.

Researchers looked for “tell-tale genetic markers,” or methylation marks — the subtle but important chemical modification of genes leading to altered gene function, indicating the disease process has started, according to a Beaumont Health press release.

There is not currently a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and treatment is limited to drugs that attempt to treat symptoms and have little effect on the disease’s progression.

The discovery, reported in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, could potentially diagnose patients much earlier in the disease process, even before the onset of symptoms and irreversible brain damage.

According to the release, researchers believe the brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease precede the onset of symptoms by years.

According to the release, more than 47 million people around the globe have Alzheimer’s disease, and a projected 75 million will be affected by Alzheimer’s by 2030, with a further rise to 131 million by 2050, leading the World Health Organization to declare the disease a global health priority.

“The holy grail is to identify patients in the pre-clinical stage so effective and early interventions, including new medications, can be studied and ultimately used,” Bahado-Singh said in a prepared statement. “(The study shows) there are significant changes in accessible blood cells that we can use (to) possibly detect Alzheimer’s.”

Dr. Khaled Imam, Beaumont Health’s director of geriatric medicine, said drugs used in the late stage of the disease do not seem to make much of a difference. While expensive and invasive methods, such as a spinal tap or MRI, can detect the start of the disease, spinal taps cannot be performed on everyone over 65, he said.

“Any delay in symptom onset is likely to be very beneficial,” Imam said in a prepared statement. “Blood is thought to be a desirable way of approaching this. And it would be relatively cheap and minimally invasive as compared to an MRI or spinal tap.”

Researchers compared blood samples from 24 Alzheimer’s patients and 24 cognitively healthy patients, analyzing white blood cells and comparing biomarkers to see if they had been genetically affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the release.

They used six different artificial intelligence and deep learning platforms to look at 800,000 changes in the genome of the leukocytes, or white blood cells.

“We found that the genetic analysis accurately predicted the absence or presence of Alzheimer’s, allowing us to read what is going on in the brain through the blood,” Bahado-Singh said in a prepared statement. “The results also gave us a readout of the abnormalities that are causing Alzheimer’s disease. This has future promise for developing targeted treatment to interrupt the disease process.”

According to the release, the next steps include organizing a much larger study to reinforce the initial findings by Beaumont researchers.