Chemistry professor Liang Li and psychology professor Roger Dixon examined saliva samples from three sets of patients: those with Alzheimer’s disease, those with mild cognitive impairment and those with normal cognition.
The researchers said they used a powerful mass spectrometer to examine more than 6,000 metabolites — compounds that are part of the body’s metabolic processes — to identify changes or differences between groups.
“In this analysis, we found three metabolites that can be used to differentiate between these three groups,” Li said. “This is preliminary work, because we’ve used a very small sample size. But the results are very promising. If we can use a larger set of samples, we can validate our findings and develop a saliva test of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The scientists said has the potential to detect neurodegenerative diseases earlier on, allowing for early intervention.
“So far, no disease-altering interventions for Alzheimer’s disease have been successful,” Dixon said. “For this reason, researchers are aiming to discover the earliest signals of the disease so that prevention protocols can be implemented.”
The researchers also said the saliva test would prove useful in clinical settings for its ease and non-invasive nature.
Li said using the biomarkers, researchers can also test what types of treatments are most effective in treating Alzeimer’s disease, such as diet, physical activity and pharmaceuticals.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function. According to Statistics Canada, the number of worldwide cases is expected to increase from 30.8 million in 2010 to more than 106 million in 2050.