A recent JAMA Neurology study confirms that a simple blood test can reveal accelerating nerve-cell damage in the brain. By analyzing neurofilament light protein (NFL) in blood samples from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that NFL concentration could indicate whether a drug is affecting the loss of nerve cells.
The researchers focused on sporadic Alzheimer’s disease, which is the common cause of dementia. Blood samples were collected over several years, on multiple occasions, from 1,182 patients with different degrees of cognitive impairment and 401 healthy subjects. Highly sensitive methods have been developed in recent years for measuring certain substances in the blood that can indicate damage in the brain and diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. Neurofilament light protein is one such substance.
NFL concentration increases over time in Alzheimer’s disease and the elevated levels are in line with the accumulated brain damage. Standard methods for indicating cell damage involve measuring the level of certain substances via lumbar puncture or by examining a brain scan. These methods are complicated, time-consuming, and expensive, and measuring NFL in the blood could be less costly as well as being easier for patients.
Measurements of NFL concentration could indicate whether a medicine is actually affecting the loss of nerve cells, when the optimal dosage of a drug has been reached, or whether another drug should be tried. It could also facilitate future drug development through following the effects of the drug and by including patients who show markers of nerve-cell deterioration.
The researchers are continuing their work at Sweden’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital, intending to make their method available as a clinical procedure in the near future.
Source: Lund University, April 23, 2019