• Race to a Cure Authors

The Discovery of a Biomarker That Can Help Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease

Image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible, degenerative brain condition that silently damages memory and thinking skills over time. Eventually, people with Alzheimer's slowly lose the ability to perform daily tasks. The disease's most common form is late-onset Alzheimer's, and symptoms first appear in those in their mid-60s. Early-onset Alzheimer's affects people as young as 30. This form, however, is very rare. There is no known cure for this disease. Still, recently, a fascinating discovery of a biomarker could help predict Alzheimer's years before signs, such as memory loss and mood or personality changes, appear.

The GFAP Biomarker

A brain protein detected in the blood could help diagnose Alzheimer's disease early. This protein is the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). A study published in Translational Psychiatry is the first to discover that people with elevated GFAP in the blood have more amyloid-beta, a known indicator of Alzheimer's, in the brain. Though GFAP is released into the blood when the disease damages the brain, it is usually located in the brain. Diagnosis today involves spinal fluid tests or brain scans.

ECU Professor Ralph Martins AO, the lead researcher of the study, said, "Blood biomarkers are becoming an exciting alternative to the existing expensive and invasive methods of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease." This discovery can pave the way for a new, promising approach to the early diagnosis of the disease. Professor Martins said, "The GFAP biomarker could be used to develop a simple and quick blood test to detect if a person is at very high risk of developing Alzheimer's. Early diagnosis is critical to allow us to implement medication and lifestyle interventions that can help delay the progression of the disease and give people more time before symptoms develop."

Advancement and Potential

Professor Martins believes that because the technology for detecting biomarkers has advanced quickly, we will start to see diagnostic blood tests being used for the disease in the next few years as current brain imaging and lumbar puncture tests are expensive and not accessible yet to the population in general. A blood test could allow for early Alzheimer's diagnosis, and thus interventions can be introduced sooner. However, he said that more research is needed to fully understand GFAP in the disease.


Edith Cowan University. (2021, February 18). Discovery of biomarker could help Predict Alzheimer's years before symptoms emerge. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210218142828.htm

National Institute of Aging. (2017). What are the signs of Alzheimer's disease? Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease

National Institute of Aging. (2017). What is Alzheimer's disease? Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-alzheimers-disease

Article Author: Tanya Kor

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Maria Giroux