In the future, Alzheimer’s therapies may be administered to people before cognitive symptoms of the disease appear. First, however, tests must be able to detect those at high risk. Toward that end, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation have announced $1 million in funding for Alzheimer’s disease research, including the study of a test requiring one drop of blood.

All of the research will be related to Down syndrome. Because people with Down syndrome are at high risk for Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, research in this population may result in quicker answers than research in the population with sporadic, late-onset disease. Almost all adults with Down syndrome begin developing the brain changes of Alzheimer’s in their 30s. By age 55 or 60, 55% to 70% will develop dementia. The study results, however, have the potential to help those with or without Down syndrome.

The “one drop” blood test study will examine whether changes in ribonucleic acid found in the drop can accurately identify people who will develop Alzheimer’s. The test, if found to be accurate and if implemented, would make checking for Alzheimer’s similar to checking glucose levels for diabetes, said one of the study’s leaders, Marwan Sabbagh, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Division of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

“If we can learn early on that a person is at risk, the goal would be to start preventative therapies immediately,” he said. “This could be a game changer.”

The three other studies receiving funding:

  • A blood test of whether a specific set of blood proteins can identify who is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
  • A test of a potential Alzheimer’s medication that reduces levels of toxic protein fragments in the brain of a mouse model of Down syndrome.
  • A study to determine whether a protein called Dyrk1A influences the build-up of brain proteins that lead to the formation of plaques and tangles that are key features of Alzheimer’s in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s.

Each of the four studies will receive $250,000 in funding.