A man records the 2-mile Walk to End Alzheimer's finish in Huntington Beach on Saturday, October 6, 2018. Photo: Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Scientists are seeking early diagnostics for Alzheimer's that could predict who is likely to develop the disease before noticeable symptoms materialize. In recent months, a large study was published showing that certain PET scans can lead to more accurate diagnoses, while other researchers are looking for disease biomarkers that may be evident in the eye, spinal fluid or the blood.

Why it matters: Alzheimer's, which is expected to affect 14 million Americans by 2060, starts decades before outward signs are indicated. While high-profile drug treatment trial failures, which were aimed at halting the degenerative disease, have occurred recently, scientists believe there are steps people can take that may help delay memory loss or alleviate other symptoms — and catching Alzheimer's early may be especially beneficial.

Background:

  • A major focus of research is on possible drug treatments targeting the clumps of protein (amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (tau proteins) in the brain, but with recent trial failures, debate has sharpened over whether treatment research needs to look elsewhere.
  • Even if some researchers believe plaques and tau proteins may not play a causative role, they are considered hallmarks of the disease that diagnostics work is built around.

What's new: Howard Fillit, founding executive director and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, tells Axios:

  • "There's a lot of excitement in the field right now ... despite the [recent failure in some] clinical trials. There's over 100 studies being conducted now, with roughly half in amyloid and tau research."
  • A large study of 11,049 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia published in JAMA Tuesday shows PET scans identifying amyloid plaques changed clinical care, such as drugs and counseling, by roughly two-thirds.
  • Fillit says that if Medicare would allow the tool, he believes people would not only get the proper diagnosis and symptom alleviation they need, but clinical trials would improve by having a larger and definite pool of Alzheimer's patients to study.

Other exciting developments in the works, Fillit says, are tests of early diagnostics in the eyes, blood and spinal fluid that look for amyloids and tau, plus inflammatory and neurodegeneration markers. He expects a blood test in a couple years and says "this is a really exciting time for biomarkers in this space."

Biomarkers are something — such as amyloids — that can be measured and indicate the possible presence of a disease. Fillit points to...

Meanwhile, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos joined the Diagnostics Accelerator formed over the summer to develop novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer's, bringing the total funding for new grants over the next 3 years to $50 million, ADDF announced Tuesday.

The bottom line: Billions are being spent by the U.S. government and biotech companies to understand the cause and to pin down better diagnostics and treatments. "Alzheimer's will look like cancer [research] soon," Fillit says. "We will have precision medicine."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 12,009,301 — Total deaths: 548,799 — Total recoveries — 6,561,969Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 3,053,328 — Total deaths: 132,256 — Total recoveries: 953,420 — Total tested: 37,532,612Map.
  3. Public health: Houston mayor cancels Republican convention over coronavirus concerns Deaths are rising in hotspots — Déjà vu sets in as testing issues rise and PPE dwindles.
  4. Travel: United warns employees it may furlough 45% of U.S. workforce How the pandemic changed mobility habits, by state.
  5. Education: New York City schools will not fully reopen in fallHarvard and MIT sue Trump administration over rule barring foreign students from online classes.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: A misinformation "infodemic" is here.

Transcripts show George Floyd told police "I can't breathe" over 20 times

Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Newly released transcripts of bodycam footage from the Minneapolis Police Department show that George Floyd told officers he could not breathe more than 20 times in the moments leading up to his death.

Why it matters: Floyd's killing sparked a national wave of Black Lives Matter protests and an ongoing reckoning over systemic racism in the United States. The transcripts "offer one the most thorough and dramatic accounts" before Floyd's death, The New York Times writes.

9 hours ago - Health

Fighting the coronavirus infodemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An "infodemic" of misinformation and disinformation has helped cripple the response to the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: High-powered social media accelerates the spread of lies and political polarization that motivates people to believe them. Unless the public health sphere can effectively counter misinformation, not even an effective vaccine may be enough to end the pandemic.