A new study from the researchers of Massachusetts General Hospitals has found a potential blood-based biomarker for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

The biomarker called Neurofilament Light Chain (NfL) has great potential to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages and could be also useful for managing the condition.

The study, published in The Lancet Neurology, was conducted by Dr. Yakeel Quiroz, Director of the Familial Dementia Neuroimaging Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and her team.

Other co-authors were Dr. Henrik Zetterberg of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden and Dr. Eric Reiman from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Quiroz said, “We wanted to determine the earliest age at which plasma NfL levels could distinguish individuals at high risk of Alzheimer’s.”

The authors found that the biomarker levels increased as age progressed among people who had a genetic risk due to a specific mutation called PSEN1 E280A.

NfL is a potential blood-based biomarker of neurodegeneration, a process in which the nerves get damaged.

The biomarker’s concentrations in blood and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) have been used to detect and track neurodegeneration in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

The researchers used an ultrasensitive single-molecule array immunoassay to measure the levels of NfL in serum and plasma. They examined the relationship between plasma NfL concentrations and age to understand the earliest age at which NfL levels start to diverge between mutation carriers and non-carriers.

They found that plasma NfL levels increased with age and began to differentiate carriers from non-carriers at the age of 22. The estimated average age of onset of mild cognitive impairment is 44 years.

“Our findings add to the growing evidence that blood-based NfL can be useful in detecting neurodegeneration, starting with very early, subtle elevations way before the onset of clinical symptoms,” Dr. Quiroz said. “We need more studies to further explore NfL as a way to inform prognosis and evaluate treatments in Alzheimer’s disease,” she added.