The Importance of Biomarkers

Biomarkers are substances or characteristics that are used as indicators of biological states. Some examples are elevated PSA levels, which may indicate prostate cancer, and elevated blood pressure readings, which may indicate high blood pressure. These measurable substances help us diagnosing disease, create individualized treatment plans, and ultimately, develop standards for evaluating the effectiveness of treatments. They are the signposts that guide our long and complicated journey toward finding treatments, preventions, and cures for Alzheimer’s disease.

What are Biomarkers of Alzheimer Disease?

Research into biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease is an important focal point of the ADRC’s current research and exploration.

Biomarkers are measurable markers in the blood, spinal fluid, levels of amyloid or tau pathology in the brain, or scores on cognitive tests. Our research aims to identify specific biomarkers that definitively indicate whether people have Alzheimer’s disease or whether they may be at risk of developing dementia sometime in the future.

We hope that by identifying biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease we will be able to accurately tailor Alzheimer’s treatments and recognize people who may be good candidates for prevention treatments. Tracking changes in biomarkers over time can help researchers to monitor a disease’s path through the brain, or the effect of a therapeutic during a clinical trial.

Biomarker Research at the UW ADRC

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Our team runs the Therapeutic Pipeline Project's Dynamic Functional Connectivity MRI in Preclinical AD, an imaging study led by Dr. Tom Grabowski and Tara Madhyastha, PhD. They aim to evaluate the potential of MRI and PET scans- images of brain structure and activity- to serve as a tool of diagnosis or to track disease progression.

Tau PET Imaging

A recent new tool in biomarker research at the UW is tau imaging - a method of PET scanning that reveals the pattern of accumulation of tau (a pathology present in several neurodegenerative diseases) in the brains of living people. Tau imaging is poised to have huge implications for understanding and diagnosing FTD and Alzheimer disease and monitoring the effectiveness of drugs targeting tau.

Cerebrospinal Fluid

We have long focused on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a fluid surrounding and inside the brain and spinal cord that provides basic mechanical and immune protection for the brain. CSF is a clear, water-like substance that can tell us a variety of details about the changes that may be occurring in a person’s brain. Our researchers collect CSF by conducting research lumbar punctures.