A research collaboration led by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has developed a universal blood test for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cognitive impairment.

The research team was led by HKUST president and life science professor, and the Hong Kong Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (HKCeND) director Nancy IP.

They developed an advanced blood test for the early detection of AD and mild cognitive impairment (MCI), with accuracy rates of more than 96% and 87% respectively.

The research was conducted in collaboration with researchers at University College London, UK and the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Centre in Barcelona, Spain.

It is also supported by clinicians from local and overseas hospitals including the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, and the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain.

Professor IP said: “Our blood test heralds a new era of simple, effective, and less invasive diagnostics, and by expanding the scope of our research to include diverse populations, we have taken a crucial step towards making our test a universally applicable tool for AD diagnosis.

“Our test can also be used to screen suitable individuals for specific drug treatments in clinical studies, and closely monitor disease progression and drug responses.

“In the future, it may also facilitate the development of personalized treatments, by shedding light on the molecular underpinnings of AD that vary from person to person and between ethnicities.”

AD is a brain disorder characterised by the accumulation of toxic amyloid beta (Aβ) in the brain, resulting in progressive memory loss, cognitive decline, and difficulties in daily tasks.

The recent approval of Lecanemab, an antibody intravenous (IV) infusion therapy targets MCI or mild AD-related dementia with elevated Aβ in the brain.

However, most individuals with AD and MCI are often undiagnosed and untreated, largely due to the challenges in making an early diagnosis.

Currently, elevated Aβ can be measured through brain imaging or invasive procedures, which involve observation of symptoms that appear 10 to 20 years after the onset of the disease.

The research team led by Nancy IP have developed a blood test for the early detection of AD and MCI with high accuracy.

In a study of people of Chinese and European ethnicity, the blood test showed superior performance in distinguishing people with AD and MCI from cognitively normal people, along with detecting brain amyloid pathology.

The study findings also showed that the test can be applicable across diverse ethnic and regional boundaries, with the potential to make a global impact.

Unlike existing blood assays that primarily focus on a single biomarker analysis to reveal brain pathology, the new blood test simultaneously measures the levels of 21 proteins.

The blood test reveals the alterations in multiple crucial biological pathways and delivers accurate classification of AD and MCI, along with close monitoring of disease progression.

Also, it provides a comprehensive AD profile for everyone, which allows for the future development of personalised treatment approaches for individual patients.