Study proposes ‘research framework’ for Alzheimer's based on biomarkers, not symptoms

Current Alzheimer’s disease research is primarily focused on symptoms, but a recent study proposed a new framework for understanding the disease based on biological brain changes and biomarkers.

The paper, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, identified the proposed switch as a “research framework” and is based on a group of biomarkers that can be visualized through imaging, the report notes.

“We envision that defining Alzheimer's as a biological construct will enable a more accurate characterization and understanding of the sequence of events that lead to cognitive impairment that is associated with Alzheimer's, as well as the multifactorial etiology of dementia,” wrote corresponding author Clifford R. Jack Jr., with the department of radiology at Mayo Clinic, and colleagues. “This approach also will enable a more precise approach to interventional trials where specific pathways can be targeted in the disease process and in the appropriate people.”

Researchers looked at the brains of people receiving experimental drugs for Alzheimer's disease and noticed around 30 percent of people who did meet the clinical criteria for the disease. 

The team broke down biomarkers into three different pathologic processes of Alzheimer’s: beta-amyloid, tau and neurodegeneration or neuronal injury.

The authors stressed this framework is still in its infancy and is not to be used in clinical practice or diagnosis.

"In the context of continuing evolution of Alzheimer's research and technologies, the proposed research framework is a logical next step to help the scientific community advance in the fight against Alzheimer's," said National Institute on Aging (NIA) director Richard J. Hodes, MD, in an NIA statement. "The more accurately we can characterize the specific disease process pathologically defined as Alzheimer's disease, the better our chances of intervening at any point in this continuum, from preventing Alzheimer's to delaying progression."