Biomarker discovery for neurodegenerative disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating slow neurodegenerative disease that is the leading cause of dementia. This disease is characterized by a slow decline in cognitive function, with the greatest risk factor for the disease being age.
Currently, the main diagnostic for Alzheimer’s disease is post-mortem, which is clearly inadequate in determining appropriate treatment regimens for elderly patients presenting with dementia. The second best method for diagnosing the form of dementia is the use of radiolabeled Pittsburgh compound B positron emission tomography (PIB-PET) imaging of the formation of amyloid plaques in human brain tissue. This has its own set of limitations, the primary issue being that it is very expensive to conduct at around $3000 per test, the second being that the radioisotopes used for the test are very shot-lived, requiring hospitals to house extensive infrastructure to generate the required labeled compounds.
The imaging techniques have however indicated that there are pathological changes in brain tissue in neurodegenerative diseases that occur up to 10 years prior to the onset of the cognitive symptoms of the disease. We, and others, believe that these changes should be reflected in the cerebrospinal fluid and blood of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Projects in this area are focused on investigating the changes in protein, and other macromolecule, levels in these fluids in the hope of identifying a cheap and accurate blood test for Alzheimer’s disease. Techniques commonly applied include the fractionation of blood, various methods for depleting abundant proteins, 2D DIGE, and mass spectrometry.
Dr Timothy Ryan