A group of researchers say that Alzheimer’s diagnosis could be just a sniff away since the disease apparently leaves an odor signature in patients’ urine years before symptoms kick in.
Alzheimer’s disease is very hard to detect in its early stages because changes in the patient’s mood and behavior are very subtle. For instance, at first patients affected by the debilitating disease only experience minor memory loss problems that one may link to fatigue or the aging process.
Yet, these symptoms steadily grow into a full-fledged diagnosis as years go by and the Alzheimer’s-related plaque continues to build up and brain cells keep dying. In the U.S., about 5.3 million Americans live with the condition.
Yet, a team of scientists at the US Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center found that Alzheimer’s can be detected before the onset of symptoms years in advance. Their findings could pave the way to new diagnosis tools.
Researchers hope that patients could be able to learn if they have the disease with a simple urine test. Dr Bruce Kimball said that past research took into account only body odor changes linked to the use of vaccine or caused by bacteria and viruses.
But mouse experiments show that odor biomarkers in an Alzhheimer’s disease patient could be used as indicators for an early diagnosis. The research team believes that the breakthrough could ease the detection of other neurologic diseases.
Still, the study results are only preliminary and human trials need to confirm them. Dr Daniel Wesson of the Case Western Reserve added that the findings are just a proof-of-concept, but they hold great potential in tracking Alzheimer’s before it becomes incurable.
The study was published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers explained that they used a type of laboratory mice that had the same neural pathology Alzheimer’s patients display at earlier stages. The team monitored the laboratory animals’ behavior and urinary odor profiles and compared them to a control group.
The changes detected through smell were not linked to a change in the urine’s chemical composition. In fact the composition stayed the same but concentrations of some compounds were altered.
Scientists suspect that the odor changes are triggered by a hidden gene, not by the changes happening in the patients’ brains after the disease’s onset. Past experiments showed that odor signatures can be used to tell mice with Alzheimer’s disease from healthy mice.
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