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Katie Lunnon, Ph.D.

NanoString Abstract Contest Winner  |  Institute of Psychiatry - King’s College London

Identifying Alzheimer’s Biomarkers in Blood

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a common and chronic neurodegenerative disease for which there is presently no cure. Unfortunately, by the time most people receive a diagnosis of AD they have already lost a significant number of irreplaceable neurons, and cognitive function as a result. Researchers are therefore looking for ways to identify or predict the disease earlier in order to increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Dr. Katie Lunnon, Prof. Simon Lovestone, and Dr. Angela Hodges of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London are part of a team of researchers who are looking for biomarkers of Alzheimer's Disease that can be identified using a simple blood sample. Their hope is to identify a panel of markers that can predict the disease and also predict which people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may go on to develop AD. They are also interested in biomarkers that could aid in monitoring the progression of the disease during clinical trials or clinical practice.

The team submitted a proposal to conduct a biomarker validation screen using the nCounter Analysis System with samples from 300 patients for which they have microarray expression data, neuroimaging data, and protein and SNP information. The subjects included 100 with AD, 100 with MCI and 100 healthy controls.

"One of the problems with microarrays is that you get a considerable amount of false positives and false negatives," said Dr. Lunnon. Typically the team would use real-time PCR to validate the results, but this takes a lot of time. "We hope to use the technology to get a panel of candidate biomarkers in a more time efficient manner than would be possible with real-time PCR," added Dr. Lunnon. "The nCounter system is novel in that you can just count the number of RNA molecules, without having to make cDNA, and you can design so many different combinations of assays for each sample."

"Alzheimer's Disease is moving up the list of priorities because we are an ageing population," said Dr. Hodges. "It's a disease that doesn't really have any treatment so the ability to have biomarkers to know when to intervene when new treatments become available is really important. Very early diagnosis will be critical to the effectiveness of the new treatments in development."