WEDNESDAY, July 18, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've identified an indicator, or "biomarker," in the blood that may help predict a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
For their study, the investigators tested the blood of 99 women, aged 70 to 79, for levels of a fatty compound called ceramides, which is associated with inflammation and cell death. The women were then followed for up to nine years and 27 of them developed dementia, including 18 who were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease.
Compared to women with the lowest levels of ceramides, those with the highest levels were 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's and those with middle levels of the biomarker were nearly eight times more likely to develop the memory-robbing disease, according to the findings published in the July 18 online issue of the journal Neurology.
"Our study identifies this biomarker as a potential new target for treating or preventing Alzheimer's disease," Michelle Mielke, an epidemiologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology. She was with Johns Hopkins University at the time of the research.
Another expert stressed the importance of the study and the need for further research.
"These findings are important because identifying an accurate biomarker for early Alzheimer's that requires little cost and inconvenience to a patient could help change our focus from treating the disease to preventing or delaying it," Valory Pavlik, of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
"While a larger, more diverse study is needed to confirm these findings, projections that the global prevalence of Alzheimer's disease will double every 20 years for the foreseeable future have certainly increased the sense of urgency among researchers and health care agencies to identify more effective screening, prevention and treatment strategies," Pavlik noted.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.