Dr. Howard Federoff '74, left, led a team of researchers that developed the first blood test that can detect if a healthy person will develop Alzheimer's disease within three years. The test is 90 percent accurate, Federoff says.

Alumnus’ research team develops first blood test for early detection of Alzheimer’s

April 09, 2014

Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research led by Dr. Howard Federoff ’74 is providing new answers for how to detect and improve treatment of the cognitive disease. 

Federoff’s team of researchers from Georgetown University and six other institutions have developed the first blood test that can predict, with 90 percent accuracy, if a healthy person will develop the disorder within three years. 

“Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder,” says Federoff, now the executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center. 

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The test is important because it could lead to the development of earlier treatment options for Alzheimer’s patients, or even prevent onset of the disease, Federoff says.

Today, more than 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

‘A major step forward’

The research study that led to the team’s discovery was published in the April issue of Nature Medicine. In the article, the study team explains how they discovered and then validated a set of 10 lipid biomarkers in the blood that predict both conditions. 

“We consider our results a major step toward the commercialization of a preclinical disease biomarker test that could be useful for large-scale screening to identify at-risk individuals,” Federoff says. 

The study has already generated widespread interest from media outlets across the country, Federoff says.

“In the ramp up of knowing exactly when our paper would appear, I had a fairly good expectation that there would be a lot of interest,” Federoff says. “It is gratifying that people are interested in the work and realize it may have relevance to a big problem. 

“The work was done extraordinarily well and it reinforces the nature of the research that we did together,” he says. “This involved many, many people over many years.” 

Earlham: A fundamental training ground 

Federoff says the education he received from Earlham College was invaluable in pursuing a career in science. 

“I think, as a sort of fundamental training ground in biology and chemistry, the foundation in the liberal arts that I received from Earlham was solid,” Federoff says. “I wound up being able to do well in both medical school and graduate school. That kind of preparation gave me confidence later in life. 

“I always thought science was interesting, but I never imagined having the type of career that I’ve had,” he says. “The likelihood that I would become a physician scientist, and now an administrator that does this kind of work, would have been impossible to predict.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

 

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