By Michael Hill
“It’s very personal,” said Dr. Robert Nagele.
Rowan University Gerontology Professor Nagele lost his father to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases in January.
“I promised my mother that I would fix this,” he said.
Nagele says his work here at the university’s Science Center is fulfilling that promise. He says right now doctors — through a series of tests — can only guess if someone has Alzheimer’s disease that destroys memory and other mental functions.
But, Nagele and his team of researchers say they take diagnosis a giant step further by developing a blood test that can detect early onset Alzheimer’s disease with 100 percent accuracy in all 50 test patients.
“Everyday, even when you’re healthy, you do generate debris that spills into your blood and your immune system takes care of it. But if you have a disease like Alheimer’s disease that means that everyday now your brain is going to have neurons that are dying and there’s going to be an excessive amount of debris pouring into your blood from your brain. And so the auto-antibodies that are responsible for clearing that debris are upregulated, or their levels go higher than the blood and that’s what we see,” he explained
Eric Goldwasser is part of the research team.
“It’s certainly promising. Definitely exciting,” he said.
Alzheimer’s afflicts more than 5 million Americans. One in nine age 65 and older has it and it’s the sixth leading cause of death. Alzheimer’s New Jersey says the research results hold great potential.
“Having that early diagnosis and being able to have that much more time to engage in planning is extremely important. But I think it also holds a lot of potential importance for research because we know right now that with the pharmaceuticals that are currently available, the earlier that they are introduced in the disease process the more effective they seem to be,” said Ken Zaentz, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s New Jersey.
The Rowan researchers say the same testing is nearly 88 percent effective on detecting Parkinson’s and they say it’s in a trial stage for multiple sclerosis and would likely bear the same results for cancer.
As word has spread about the results, the team has received unsolicited blood samples of people desperate to know if they’re early onset Alzheimer’s but Nagele says they’re not allowed to test those samples.
“It’s actually pretty moving to see the positive response that we get,” Nagele said.
Dr. Nagele says he and his team of researchers are awaiting funding for the second phase of the study to confirm what they found in phase one. He says it will take approximately $1.5 million from this point to potential FDA approval.