Study opens the door to earlier diagnosis and potential treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

A team of researchers from Aarhus University have found a way to spot the debilitating disease Alzheimer's before it develops into dementia. This could be a big step towards new treatment options.

[Translate to English:] Postdoc Kristian Juul-Madsen Photo: Simon Fischel, AU Health

A groundbreaking study might open the door to earlier diagnosis and a potential pathway towards slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers have discovered a special receptor on immune cells that can effectively bind and neutralise harmful "beta proteins", which are strongly associated with the disease.

"The method allows us to monitor disease-related changes at an earlier stage than is possible with traditional methods. And this is important when it comes to Alzheimer’s because it’s known to develop over a very long period of time. This is also why treatment is typically first started when the disease is already so advanced that it may be almost impossible to slow down," explains Kristian Juul-Madsen, postdoc at the Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University, and one of the researchers behind the study.

"If we can activate the body's own immune system at an earlier stage of the disease, it might be possible to slow down its progression before it develops into full-blown dementia," he adds.

A great leap for diagnostics

The study suggests that the activity of the peripheral immune system may play a crucial role in the body's defence against Alzheimer's by preventing the accumulation of harmful proteins in the brain.

The new method uses an advanced type of blood test analysis that is particularly sensitive to the early stages of the disease. This is a major breakthrough compared to current diagnostic tools, such as PET scans, which can usually only spot the disease once it is at an advanced stage.

“Our hope is that these discoveries can pave the way for new strategies in the fight against Alzheimer’s. By understanding how the immune system can be mobilised against early stages of the disease, we might be able to develop therapies that can intervene much earlier than current treatment options," says Kristian Juul-Madsen.

International attention

The results of the study have received international attention, and the research team behind the discovery is already planning follow-up projects to test the new method in a larger patient group.

The research team is also trying to understand the exact mechanisms behind the immune system's ability to fight the early signs of Alzheimer's, which could be key to developing even more effective treatments in the future.

"The biggest challenge in transferring our research to the clinic is that it takes a long time to test the beneficial effect of activating the immune system, as Alzheimer's is known to develop very slowly and you need to intervene at a very early stage," explains Kristian Juul-Madsen.

While the study is promising for the fight against Alzheimer's, it also raises some ethical concerns. After all, what will an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's mean for patients and their families when there is currently no effective treatment for the disease?

"Of course, it's sad if you can identify the development of a dangerous disease like Alzheimer's without being able to do anything to stop it. However, this is something we need to do in order to develop a treatment in the future," says Kristian Juul-Madsen.

The research results - more information:

Type of study: Descriptive patient studies supported by in vitro and animal (mouse) experiments

External funding: Aarhus University Research Foundation; Alzheimer's Association; Novo Nordisk Foundation; Lundbeck Foundation; Independent Research Fund Denmark; Danish National Research Foundation; Danish National Research Foundation; EU Horizon 2020; National Institutes of Health.

Partners: Departments of Biomedicine, Clinical Medicine, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Biological and Chemical Engineering & the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, Germany; Department of Nuclear Medicine & PET Centre, Odense University Hospital, Odense, Denmark; Dept. of Nuclear Medicine and PET Centre, Vejle Hospital, Vejle, Denmark; Institute for Brain Science, Imperial College London, London, UK; Institute for Translational and Clinical Research, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

Conflicts of interest: None disclosed

Link to the scientific article: 



Postdoc Kristian Juul-Madsen
Aarhus University, Department of Biomedicine 

Professor Thomas Vorup-Jensen
Aarhus University, Department of Biomedicine 
Telephone: (+45) 21 48 97 81