Around 1.6 million people in Germany suffer from dementia – and the trend is rising. A study is now raising hope for a rapid test for the disease.
Göttingen – The number of people suffering from dementia is increasing. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) assumes a rapid increase by 2030. Around 40 percent more sick people are expected. In 2019, it was estimated that around 55 million people worldwide suffered from the disease. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, around 1.6 million people in Germany live with dementia. According to figures from the German Alzheimer’s Society, there are around 300,000 new cases annually in the Federal Republic of Germany alone.
There are more and more studies that show ways to prevent dementia. According to this, for example, listening and reliable social contacts, but also making music together, should help. But research on Alzheimer’s drugs is also working at full speed. But in order to prevent and treat in a targeted manner, an early and, above all, rapid diagnosis is required. Because once the symptoms show up, the chances of positive treatment are slim. Work by researchers from Germany now gives hope for a rapid test for dementia.
Rapid test for dementia possible soon?
Researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) at the University Medical Center Göttingen have now published their results. Their study can be found in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. They combined the results of laboratory studies with test subjects with other research, for example on mice and cell cultures. This enabled them to track down three specific microRNAs in the blood.
MicroRNAs are molecules that play a central role in metabolism. Because they are an important factor in the production of proteins. “There are many different microRNAs and each of them can regulate entire networks of interdependent proteins and thus influence complex processes in the organism. MicroRNAs therefore have a broad effect. We wanted to find out whether there are special microRNAs whose occurrence in the blood correlates with mental fitness, ”said André Fischer, research group leader and DZNE spokesman in a press release.
Detecting dementia – how does the rapid test for the disease work?
But how exactly does the rapid test for dementia work, what does it show? The researchers were able to establish a connection between the three microRNAs, also known as biomarkers, and mental performance. In healthy people, for example, it was shown that a low level in the blood was related to better results in cognition tests. A connection was also found in patients with a mild cognitive disorder. Of those with high levels of microRNAs in their blood, 90 percent developed Alzheimer’s disease within two years.
“We therefore see an increased blood level of these three microRNAs as a harbinger of dementia.”
The researcher also gives an indication of the time to be expected here: “We estimate that this biomarker indicates a development in humans that is about two to five years in the future.” In addition, the microRNAs appear to be more than just warning signs . Because studies with mice and cell cultures showed that the biomarkers influence inflammatory processes in the brain. They also play a role in “neuroplasticity”. This includes, among other things, how it is possible for nerve cells to connect to one another. “In our opinion, they are not just markers, but also have an active effect on pathological processes. That makes them possible starting points for therapy, ”explains the researcher.
Dementia rapid test: is there any hope of application soon?
However, it will still take some time to use it in practice. Because the biomarkers must first be examined further.
Another point is that the current measurement method still means too much effort in practice. “Our goal is a cost-effective test, similar to the rapid test for SARS-CoV-2 with the difference that you would need a drop of blood for our purposes. Such a test could be used in routine medical examinations in order to detect an increased risk of dementia at an early stage. People for whom the results are conspicuous could then undergo more complex diagnostics, ”says Fischer. Unfortunately, it will take a while before a rapid test for dementia can become just as common and quickly feasible as a test for corona. (Sophia Lother)
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