Research Roundup: Blood Test Accurately Predicts Alzheimer’s Disease and More

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Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Blood Test Accurately Predicts Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum used a blood test to accurate predict the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people who thought they were cognitively impaired but were otherwise not diagnosed clinically as having the disease. The test is called the Immuno-Infrared Sensor, and it identified all 22 patients who began the study who went on to later develop Alzheimer’s dementia within six years. It also demonstrated which patients were at very low risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia within six years. The data was published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

The Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) cohort included 203 people. Blood samples were drawn at the beginning of the study and analyzed using the test that detects misfolding of the amyloid-beta peptide, a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. They also received extensive Alzheimer’s disease diagnostic testing. The cognitive testing did not result in a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in any of the participants at the beginning of the study. The immuno-infrared sensor, however, identified misfolded amyloid-beta in all 22 of the people who went on to develop clinical Alzheimer’s disease in the following six years. In those people who showed mild misfolding, it took 3.4 years on average for conversion to clinical Alzheimer’s, compared to 2.2 years in people with severe amyloid-beta misfolding.

“We can now very accurately predict the risk of developing clinical Alzheimer’s disease in the future, with a simple blood test on symptom-free individuals with subjective concerns,” said Klaus Gerwert, biophysics professor with the Bochum Research Center for Protein Diagnostics. “However, we can just as confidently give the all-clear for SCD patients who have a very low probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the next six years.”

Julia Stockman, also a biophysicist with Bochum, said, “Through the plasma biomarker panel, we can monitor disease progression over 14 years, beginning in the asymptomatic state with misfolding of amyloid-beta and subsequent plaque deposition of amyloid-beta 42 in the brain associated with the first cognitive impairments.”

Eye Scans May ID Cognitive Decline in Diabetics

People with diabetes are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive problems than non-diabetics. Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center have identified retina changes that may be linked with cognitive disorders in older type 1 diabetics. If so, it may be a relatively easier way of early detection of cognitive decline in these people. Earlier research had shown a link between proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) and cognitive impairment in type 1 diabetics. They found strong associations between performance on memory tasks and structural changes in deep blood vessel networks in the retina.

COVID-19 Mild in Young Children, but Often Asymptomatic

Investigators with the University of New South Wales conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of international COVID-19 literature and confirmed that while children under five years of age typically recovered from COVID-19 infections, half of those infected were infants and almost half of the children under the age of five with infections were asymptomatic. The study was a collaboration between researchers from UNSW Sydney, Telethon Kids Institute Perth, The University of Sydney, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh, and The Royal Veterinary College University of London. The results provide insight into how best to treat this patient population, as well as considerations for diagnostic testing.

Why Obesity is Associated with Inflammation

Although obesity is linked with a number of inflammatory conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and infection, why exactly that is the case isn’t well understood. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center identified a type of cell that, at least in mice, is responsible for triggering inflammation in fat tissue. In obese individuals, white adipose tissue (WAT), stores excess calories in the form of triglycerides. In obesity, WAT is overworked, fat cells start to die, and immune cells are activated. The research team identified an adipose progenitor cell (APC), a precursor that later generates mature fat cells. These new cells are called fibro-inflammatory progenitors (FIPs) and they make signals that encourage inflammation.

New Technique Developed to Transfer Mitochondria

The mitochondria are the powerplants of the cells and are inherited from an individual’s mother. Each mitochondrion has its own small amount of DNA and they are increasingly being associated with debilitating diseases. But research into mitochondria can be challenging. Researchers with the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center developed a high-throughput technique for transferring isolated mitochondria and their associated mitochondrial DNA into mammalian cells. This lets researchers tailor a key genetic component of cells. The technique is dubbed the MitoPunch. The MitoPunch uses pressure to propel an isolated mitochondrial suspension through a membrane coated with cells.

So-called “Junk DNA” Involved in Regulating Circadian Rhythms

“Junk DNA” is DNA whose purpose for decades was not understood by researchers. Increasingly, they are finding the purpose for much of that DNA and new findings by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC have linked micro RNAs (miRNAs), which are small chains of non-coding nucleotides, with circadian rhythms, or the “body clock.” miRNAs affect gene expression by preventing messenger RNA (mRNA) from making proteins.

“We’ve seen how the function of these clock genes are really important in many different diseases,” said Steve Kay, Provost Professor of neurology, biomedical engineering and quantitative computational biology at Keck. “But what we were blind to was a whole different funky kind of genes network that also is important for circadian regulation and this is the whole crazy world of what we call non-coding microRNA.”

Using a robotic high-throughput system, the screened close to 1,000 miRNAs by individually transferring them into cells the researchers had engineered to glow on and off based on the cells’ 24-hour circadian clock cycle. They identified about 110 to 120 miRNAs that modulated circadian rhythms. They believe that understanding the role and impact of miRNAs on circadian rhythms in individual tissues may lead to a deeper understanding of several diseases associated with circadian aberrations, such as Alzheimer’s and asthma.

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