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World Alzheimer’s Day: tackling a major public health concern

Towards better diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease
Improving early detection of Alzheimers is important for the development of treatments.
Sep 21 2019

Today is World Alzheimer's Day. Dementia, including Alzheimer's, is one of the big challenges for the health and social care system.

The JRC is supporting research on early detection of the disease.  

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease. It is the most common type of dementia.

It affects 50 – 70 % of all dementia patients. Memory loss, problems with language, disorientation in space and time… Alzheimer is heavy both for patients and their families. Its economic impact is also high.

Improving its early detection is important to better understand how the disease appears in order to develop medication.

Still today, Alzheimer's is often diagnosed several years after first symptoms appear.  

Today, there is still no treatment to cure Alzheimer's disease.

Looking for specific biomarkers for early detection of the disease

One approach for Alzheimer's diagnosis is the measurement of specific biomarkers.

They are measurable molecules that give information on our health status.

In case of Alzheimer's disease, the levels of three specific biomarkers begin to change up to 10 years before the patient gets the first symptoms.

These biomarkers are found in the cerebrospinal fluid, a colourless liquid in the patient’s brain.

They typically show

  • reduced levels of the biomarker amyloid beta 42
  • increased levels of two other biomarkers: total tau and phosphorylated tau.

A first certified reference material

The problem with biomarkers is that their measurements can vary considerably between different methods and laboratories.

Such variability is a major obstacle for diagnosis or therapeutic intervention.

The JRC, in collaboration with the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (IFCC), has released, in December 2017, the first certified reference material (CRM) for the Alzheimer biomarker amyloid beta 42.

This CRM helps to reduce the variability in the measurements, by ensuring useful, reliable and comparable results from different methods and can be used for calibration of test methods developed by diagnostics companies.

Presently, the JRC is working on the development of CRMs for the two other biomarkers. Thereby support research on the development of suitable medication.