✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 5 minutes
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, present profound challenges due to their insidious onset and progressive nature. One promising avenue in combating these ailments is the identification of biomarkers, which can flag the disease well before the manifestation of clinical symptoms.
A biomarker, or biological marker, refers to measurable indicators of biological states or conditions. For neurodegenerative diseases, these are typically proteins or other molecules that appear at abnormal levels in the brain, spinal fluid, or blood when a disease is present.
By the time many neurodegenerative diseases manifest overtly, significant neuronal damage has already occurred. Early detection can pave the way for timely interventions, potentially slowing disease progression and improving the quality of life.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Amyloid-beta and tau proteins in cerebrospinal fluid and blood are showing potential as reliable indicators.
Parkinson’s Disease: Alpha-synuclein in cerebrospinal fluid and certain changes detected through neuroimaging.
Huntington's Disease: Levels of neurofilament light chain in the blood can indicate the disease's onset.
Advanced imaging techniques like MRI and PET scans can visualise changes in brain structure and function. These images, when combined with molecular biomarkers, can enhance the accuracy of early diagnosis.
While many potential biomarkers have been identified, rigorous validation is essential. Challenges include ensuring specificity (does the biomarker only appear in one disease?) and sensitivity (does it detect all cases?).
The quest for reliable biomarkers is gaining momentum with the integration of genomics, proteomics, and advanced imaging. As our understanding deepens, the hope is that we'll be able to identify diseases in their nascent stages, opening the door to preventative treatments.
Biomarkers hold the promise of revolutionising the way we approach neurodegenerative diseases. By enabling early detection and diagnosis, we stand a better chance of halting or even reversing the damage, offering hope to millions affected worldwide.