Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most frequent cause of dementia among adults over 65. In Europe, more than 10.5 million patients live with some form of dementia, 60 to 80 % presenting as AD. “AD is one of the most feared diseases of old age,” says NORATEST project coordinator Romain Verpillot from Alzohis in France. “A diagnosis is often experienced with shock and feelings of disbelief, anger and hopelessness.” Despite the absence of an efficient cure, early diagnoses can help patients to slow down the symptoms, with pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. At the moment however, identifying AD involves costly and invasive procedures, such as, MRI scans and cerebrospinal fluid analyses. “By the time a diagnosis is proposed, patients have already suffered significant and possibly irreversible neurodegeneration,” notes Verpillot. There is hope however. Recent studies show that AD begins years before the appearance of symptoms, when only mild cognitive impairments are evident. “The key is being able to distinguish between cognitive decline associated with normal aging and early stages of AD. Finding early biomarkers that are related specifically to changes associated with AD can enable doctors to diagnose AD quicker and more accurately.”
French firm Alzohis has been a pioneer in this field. The company successfully demonstrated that a combination of biomarkers called catecholamines, a type of neurotransmitter, is measurable in blood samples. This can predict the presence of AD. This realisation has opened the door to a new patented method of diagnosing AD, based on plasma catecholamine levels. “The Noratest is a blood test-based tool that we believe can assist in AD diagnosis,” explains Verpillot. “It is meant to be used as a first-line test prescribed to patients consulting a doctor for characterised cognitive complaints.” Lab results are fed into a digital platform. Based on algorithmic-derived calculations, the doctor can then decide to refer the patient to a specialist and proceed with other appropriate diagnostic tests. “We could see Noratest being routinely used as a screening tool, to accelerate diagnoses for patients with suspected AD,” says Verpillot.
Expanding market reach
The aim of the 4-month, EU-funded project was to help the company expand its network among neurologists from other European countries. “At present, most of our partner hospitals are in France,” adds Verpillot. The project has enabled the firm to work on a pan-European clinical study. Expanding the observations on using plasma catecholamines as AD biomarkers among an international cohort of patients will help Alzohis to refine the Noratest. “We are also planning to study the genetic and environmental variations among the European population,” says Verpillot. “This will help us to develop standards that can be used equally all over Europe.” The company also has its sights on expanding into the United States market. Ultimately, Noratest has the potential to ensure that patients complaining from cognitive impairments will be able to receive more effective and appropriate therapy in a timely manner. This means better quality of life for citizens, and a reduction in the cost of treating AD, thanks to managed early interventions. The bigger picture is that this might help to change how society perceives AD. “A simple blood test allows patients to be diagnosed at the very beginning of cognitive decline,” notes Verpillot. “This gives them and their families time to handle the disease sensitively and to maintain as good a quality of life as possible.”
NORATEST, Alzohis, Alzheimer’s, AD, neurodegeneration, dementia, cognitive, biomarker