A novel blood test can detect Alzheimer's disease early

A new study uses SOBA to detect toxic proteins in the blood of patients with Alzheimer's disease prior to diagnosis.
Brittney Grimes
A blood sample for Alzheimer disease.
A blood sample for Alzheimer disease.


Researchers have created a new laboratory test that can check for the levels of a specific toxic protein that is associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers from the University of Washington in the U.S. developed the test that can measure levels of amyloid beta oligomers in blood samples.

The study will be published this week, Dec. 8, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Detecting toxic proteins

The test is known by the acronym SOBA, which stands for soluble oligomer binding assay, and can detect oligomers, the toxic protein, in the blood of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In the control group, which included individuals who did not show signs of Alzheimer’s, 11 participants were found to have oligomers.

After a follow-up examination, 10 of the patients were all diagnosed with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, including mild cognitive impairment or brain pathology consistent with the disease. For the 10 individuals in the study, the blood test SOBA had detected the toxic proteins before the symptoms were noticeable.

SOBA can detect Alzheimer’s disease early

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet, the novel test provides insight into finding a diagnosis for the disease prior to its onset. “What clinicians and researchers have wanted is a reliable diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease—and not just an assay that confirms a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, but one that can also detect signs of the disease before cognitive impairment happens,” said Valerie Daggett, the senior author of the study and a University of Washington (UW) professor of bioengineering and faculty member in the UW Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. “That's important for individuals' health and for all the research into how toxic oligomers of amyloid beta go on and cause the damage that they do.”

Researchers realized that SOBA could detect Alzheimer’s disease in the blood of patients. It utilizes a synthetic alpha sheet designed by Daggett and her team that can bind to the oligomers in blood samples or cerebrospinal fluid. SOBA involves a blood test rather than other complicated means of testing.

Previous evaluation

The researchers previously tested SOBA on blood samples from 310 participants who had made their blood samples available for Alzheimer’s studies. At the time, none of the individuals experienced cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

SOBA detected oligomers in blood of participants with Alzheimer’s. The team evaluated the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 53 individuals after they died, and the blood samples of 52 of them showed toxic oligomers.

Creating a diagnostic test

The researchers are collaborating with scientists at ALTPep, a UW spinout company, to create a diagnostic test for oligomers. The team also showed that SOBA could be modified to detect another type of toxic protein found in Parkinson’s disease.

“We believe that SOBA could aid in identifying individuals at risk or incubating the disease, as well as serve as a readout of therapeutic efficacy to aid in development of early treatments for Alzheimer's disease,” Daggett stated.

The team wants to eventually use the test to detect Alzheimer’s disease early, but also to identify toxic proteins early for Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases.


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