Mucus shows promise as cheap and easy diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's
With so much we are yet to understand about how Alzheimer’s develops, scientists are coming at the problem from all kinds of angles. This includes exploring the disease’s relationship with our metabolism and our microbiome, and developing blood tests that could pick it up in its early stages. Scientists in South Korea have identified another pathway, and are reporting some promising results around an early diagnostic method that involves detecting biomarkers in nasal discharge.
The work was carried out by a research team at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), who a few years ago uncovered some peculiarities in the olfactory systems of mice with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These stemmed from the buildup of what’s known as amyloid beta, toxic protein aggregations in the brain that are thought to be key drivers of the neurodegeneration associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“In 2017, we found that olfactory dysfunction occurred in the early stages of AD in mice and suggested that the cause of the symptoms was induced by soluble species of amyloid beta oligomer accumulations in the peripheral olfactory system,” says leader of the study,Professor Cheil Moon. “We hypothesized that soluble amyloid beta oligomers could be detectable in nasal discharge and that they may be a useful parameter to monitor disease progression.”
Following this line of inquiry, the team enlisted 39 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 21 in the same age group as a control. Comparing samples of nasal discharge taken from the participants revealed some key differences, with the levels of two amyloid beta oligomers consistently higher in those with the disease.
While this study involves a small sample size and is very early stages for the research, the team believes this biomarker could not only be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, but possibly also predict its progression. The scientists also note that much more work is needed to understand the relationship between these markers in nasal discharge and the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s, but are enthused with these early results and what they could one day lead to.
“Routine nasal discharge screenings would be a better option to screen for Alzheimer’s disease because of its various advantages, such as its relatively low cost and non-invasive nature,” says Moon. “The results of our study introduce a novel and simple approach to assess AD progression.”
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.