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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Spinal Fluid Test May Diagnose Alzheimer's

Study Shows Proteins Could Help Identify Cases of Alzheimer's Disease

Will Patients Agree to Spinal Tap?

In an editorial accompanying the study, Growdon wrote that measuring amyloid-beta and tau protein levels in spinal fluid is a useful advance in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

But he says it remains to be seen if doctors and patients will embrace a diagnostic test that requires drawing fluid from the spinal region.

The study and editorial appear in the August issue of Archives of Neurology.

"For patients, the procedure is often perceived as painful, difficult to perform, and dangerous," he writes."Even the terms spinal tap and lumbar puncture are threatening; perhaps a more neutral description such as spinal fluid collection, comparable to blood draw, followed by a full explanation of the procedure would be helpful."

Growdon tells WebMD that even if patients do accept the test, most family physicians and internists are not able to provide it.

"It would take a sea change where group practices and hospitals develop lumbar puncture centers like the centers that now provide colonoscopies or brain scans," he says.

Growdon says CSF testing represents an important addition to existing tests for people with mild cognitive impairment and those suspected of having Alzheimer's disease.

It may also be useful for screening healthy older people in the future, once effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease are developed, he says.

The Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative is a $60 million, five-year research partnership between public and private interests overseen by the U.S. National Institute on Aging. About two-thirds of the research has been funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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