Developments in blood tests for detecting Alzheimer’s disease proteins

A photo of a gloved hand holding a vial of blood in front of set of other similar vials

What if you could take a blood test to determine whether you have proteins related to Alzheimer’s disease progression? That idea is closer to reality than you may know.

A recent study published by JAMA Neurology found that a blood test performed as well as lumbar punctures for sampling cerebrospinal fluid. These blood tests detect phosphorylated tau, which signals the presence of abnormal proteins in the brain related to Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid and tau.

Henrik Zetterberg, MD, PhD, served as senior author of the paper. The paper's authors also include UW researchers Karly Cody, PhD, Rebecca Langhough, PhD, Cynthia Carlsson, MD, MS and Sterling Johnson, PhD. The researchers examined data from participants enrolled in three studies, including the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP). UW is a central part of development of effective, accessible tools for Alzheimer’s disease blood detection.  

While more research is needed to show if these tests can diagnose those who are in the early stages of developing dementia, these findings show exciting progress as the field looks to create new tools for identifying and diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease to make the diagnoses more accessible.

Sterling Johnson, PhD, discussed the future of blood tests for detecting abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the winter issue of the WRAP Update newsletter.

“As we look to the near future, clinicians will need better tools for early identification of Alzheimer's disease, so those treatments can start early. This is precisely where WRAP comes in,” Johnson writes. “We are testing whether the abnormal proteins in Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in a simple blood test. Our recently published early results strongly indicate this will be the case; and now we’re in the process of testing blood samples from WRAP dating back to approximately 2011.”

Diagnostic Accuracy of a Plasma Phosphorylated Tau 217 Immunoassay for Alzheimer Disease Pathology,” was published online in JAMA Neurology on January 22, 2024.