A new study presented on the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, discovered that levels of metabolites found in saliva may help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Although this new study is in its primary stages, it represents an exciting future in the development of new tools for detecting the neurodegenerative disease.

Researchers from the University Of Alberta in Canada analyzed saliva samples over almost 100 people. They proceeded to divide this population into three groups: 22 people with Alzheimer’s, 25 people with mild cognitive impairment and 35 people who were aging normally.

Alzheimer's disease patient meeting a doctor (Photo: BU Alzheimers Disease Center)
Alzheimer’s disease patient meeting a doctor (Photo: BU Alzheimers Disease Center)

Using protein analysis technology, researchers examined the saliva of each individual, analyzing over 6,000 metabolites, which are small molecules that are byproducts of chemical reactions in the brain. The team then discover specific patterns of metabolites in the group of people that suffers from Alzheimer’s and the ones with mild cognitive impairment, in comparison with the normal aging group. They tested the patterns of metabolites (or biomarkers) as predictors of cognitive performance.

While doctors currently know the difference between a healthy brain in comparison to one that suffers from Alzheimer’s, the study clearly states the importance of detecting the disease at an early stage.

Although this new method was presented in the conference, it has not been published or peer-reviewed, which is the gold standard of scientific research. As a result, experts emphasize the need of more research before the saliva tool is officially used.

“This is a very preliminary study with a small number of subjects and the results are far from conclusive” said Dr. Allison Reiss, head of the Inflammation Section at Winthrop-University Hospital. “There are many gaps in the evidence. It is uncertain whether the strength and consistency of the relationship between these metabolites and Alzheimer’s risk will be maintained in a large multicenter study.”

However, once the saliva test is validated it would be a very beneficial screening tool, indicating if the patient needs a further and more invasive testing.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in United States and affects almost 5 million Americans. The number is expected to be tripled by 2050.