Searching for clues

Accurate diagnosis of dementia is not easy. It can involve the combination of a number of different tests, including brain scans and memory and thinking tests. Research is now underway to discover ‘biomarkers’. These are biological changes in the body that can act as telltale signs of disease, such as blood sugar levels in diabetes. Biomarkers for diseases like Alzheimer’s could include characteristic changes on a brain scan, the presence of particular versions of genes, or changes in the molecules found in blood, urine or spinal fluid.

Thousands of different molecules are circulating around our bodies in our blood, including hormones, chemicals involved in metabolism, and proteins necessary for the day-to-day function of cells. When we start to develop a disease, the balance of these molecules can shift and profiling these changes is a growing area of research. Teams of scientists across the world are using highly sensitive methods to study changes in blood that could signal the early signs of damage in the brain.

Discovering biomarkers for diseases like Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies will improve diagnosis, help us understand how the diseases progress and allow researchers to track patients’ responses to new treatments.