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Blood Tests to Enable Early Identification of Cognitive Decline and Personalized Treatments

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 01 Dec 2023
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Image: Newly identified biomarkers may detect early cognitive decline via a blood test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: Newly identified biomarkers may detect early cognitive decline via a blood test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Some individuals who have endured extreme stressors like psychiatric disorders or childhood abuse and neglect can experience a variety of health issues later in life, such as depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease. While not everyone who suffers from extreme stressors faces health complications later in life, a significant number do. For those affected, their cells tend to age more rapidly, leading to earlier physical breakdowns in the body, a phenomenon known as "accelerated biological aging." Natural aging processes typically involve a decline in cognitive functions, including memory, reasoning, executive function, and processing speed. Although global genetic research has generated mixed findings on whether accelerated biological aging kicks off early cognitive decline, previous studies suggest that early signs of cognitive decline can be identified long before they impact the quality of life. This opens up a window for early detection and intervention.

Now, a new study by researchers at Penn State (University Park, PA, USA) has unveiled genetic markers that could potentially forecast cognitive decline. According to the researchers, future blood tests might be able to detect early cell aging caused by these stressors, indicating a decline in cognitive abilities. In their study, the researchers analyzed two distinct population groups and found that accelerated biological aging might be a useful biomarker for identifying cognitive decline.

Utilizing blood samples and other medical data compiled from other studies, the researchers explored the relationship between potential genetic markers of cognitive performance, actual cognitive testing results, and the history of psychiatric disorders or childhood maltreatment. Their analysis revealed that accelerated biological aging is linked to reduced cognitive abilities and slower processing speed. However, the exact genetic markers indicating this relationship varied between the two study groups. The researchers attribute these differences to the distinct designs of the studies, suggesting that varying genetic markers could signal cognitive decline depending on the study's structure and focus.

“Understanding the connection between accelerated biological aging and cognitive decline may help researchers create treatments that help people who have experienced extreme stressors to experience better health,” said John Felt, assistant research professor in the Center for Healthy Aging and lead author of the study. “Cognitive decline can undermine your personal and professional life, especially for people who also have a psychiatric condition. Our research could lead to blood tests for early identification of cognitive decline and eventually to personalized treatments that support cognitive function in people with accelerated biological aging.”

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