For the first time, scientific researchers have identified a particular kind of fat in the blood that, at high levels, may increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The discovery that high levels of “ceramides” in the blood may flag Alzheimer’s could point the way for developing a biomarker clinicians may one day be able to track to predict the likelihood a patient will develop the cognitive disorder.
"Our study identifies this biomarker as a potential new target for treating or preventing Alzheimer's disease," said Michelle M. Mielke, an epidemiologist with the Mayo Clinic who reported the findings in the journal Neurology.
For the study, researchers tested the blood of 99 women in their 70s for levels of ceramides, a fatty compound found throughout the body that is associated with inflammation and cell death. The women were divided into three groups: high, middle and low levels of ceramides. They were then followed for up to nine years. About 27 of the women developed dementia or were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease over that time.
Researchers found women who had the highest levels of the biomarker were 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's than women with the lowest levels. Those with middle levels of the biomarker were nearly eight times more likely to develop the disease than those with the lowest levels.
"These findings are important because identifying an accurate biomarker for early Alzheimer's that requires little cost and inconvenience to a patient could help change our focus from treating the disease to preventing or delaying it," said Valory Pavlik, with the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in an editorial accompanying the study.
"While a larger, more diverse study is needed to confirm these findings, projections that the global prevalence of Alzheimer's disease will double every 20 years for the foreseeable future have certainly increased the sense of urgency among researchers and health care agencies to identify more effective screening, prevention and treatment strategies."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute on Aging.