BURLINGTON – Global life science giant Labcorp is rolling out a test that it says can speed up a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s and thus lead to earlier intervention to fight the deadly disease.

The test is designed to detect biomarkers and biological changes that Labcorp notes are associated with Alzheimer’s.

“Many patients experience uncertainty around Alzheimer’s disease risk, which can take months or even years to diagnose,” said Dr. Brian Caveney, Labcorp’s chief medical and scientific officer, in announcing the test. “More definitive testing, including our new ATN profile, can provide objective insights to patients, their loved ones, and treating physicians as they navigate care and treatment.”

As Reuters news services reports, current Alzheimer’s detection requires a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) test, which includes a lumbar puncture, or a PET (positron emission tomography) brain scan. It’s expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

The targets

Called ATN, the test aims to identify amyloid plaques, tau tangles and neurodegeneration. It’s now available to physicians who are evaluating patients for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, the company said.

Labcorp told Reuters the cost of the test will be more than $600 but talks are underway about insurance coverage.

Alzheimer’s “involves a slow build-up of protein plaques and tangles in the brain that eventually cause brain cells to stop working properly and die – a process known as neurodegeneration, which may start years before a person experiences symptoms such as memory loss,” Labcorp adds.

This development “can help accelerate the path to diagnosis and intervention,” Labcorp said.

According to Labcorp the new test will give “physicians an easily accessible and interpretable blood test to assess pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions in appropriate patients, supporting more informed decision-making and improved personalized patient care.”

But even with an ATN test, further testing will be required to confirm Alzheimer’s, Reuters said.

The facts of Alzheimer’s scale

Choices in drugs to treat Alzheimer’s are limited. “Galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil are cholinesterase inhibitors that are prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. These drugs may help reduce or control some cognitive and behavioral symptoms,” according to the National Institute on Aging.

More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and by 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

Some fact points:

  • One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, the association adds.
  • Costs related to Alzheimer’s will reach $345 billion this year and could soar as high as $1 trillion by 2050, it says.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older Black Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.
  • Older Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.