Blood tests offer accurate, cheaper diagnoses for Alzheimer's and autism

Blood tests offer accurate, cheaper diagnoses for Alzheimer's and autism
Photo: MGN Generic
Photo: MGN Generic

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Seventy-three-year-old Jeri Johnson says her Alzheimer's diagnosis two years ago wasn't surprising. Her mother suffered from dementia.

"I was grateful for it really because I didn't want it to go on and on and get worse and do nothing about it."

Johnson learned of her disease through a brain scan after she noticed she was forgetting things. Physicians say early blood testing could lead to treatment before the symptoms appear.

"A way to isolate the people who have the disease many years before, so we can hopefully intervene before there is any symptom," explains Dr. Jacabo Mintzer, a professor and MUSC.

Mintzer says every disease has a unique "fingerprint" that shows up in blood, sometimes 10 to 15 years before the actual symptoms appear. He says that knowledge could be life-changing and life-saving.

"Even if it's not perfect, it will be incredibly helpful as a screening tool because it's much easier to do a blood test than to go ahead and have to do a complicated imaging study."

There is a downside to early diagnosis. Physicians say it could lead to unnecessary stress if treatments aren't available.

"It probably would have made me a little anxious waiting for it too happen, but at the same time I think it's good for people to be aware that it's not as bad as you think it's going to be," says Johnson.

Mintzer says early detection would also push more research for longterm treatments and cures.

"To find the appropriate and ethical way to help individuals manage a challenge that doesn't have a clear resolution."

Johnson says either way, don't be afraid to face what's in front of you.

"Don't be scared. Just find somebody to help you and join a research project. Maybe someday you'll help somebody else."

Physicians say blood testing could also be used for other complex diseases like Parkinson's and depression. It's also a fraction of the cost. Blood tests run in the hundreds of dollars while brain scans and biopsies in the thousands.