Standardised Approach Needed to Validate miRNAs Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease

17 Dec 2015

CHeBA Blog: Standardised Approach Needed to Validate miRNAs Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease


Failure to use a standardised approach is limiting the effectiveness of research into whether microRNAs (miRNAs) can be used as a blood biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.  Researchers at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Australia conducted a systematic review investigating research into miRNAs as potential biomarkers for early diagnosis and found that few studies assessed the same miRNAs and where they did, methodological differences between the studies made it hard to validate findings.

The research, led by CHeBA PhD student Dr Helen Wu, was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to Dr Wu, miRNAs have previously been recognised as novel biomarkers of disease, but their success in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) has been mixed.

“Individual studies suggest that microRNAs can differentiate patients with AD or MCI from people who are cognitively normal with modest accuracy,” said Dr Wu. “While our review identified some miRNAs as encouraging, future studies need to be completed by independent researchers using a standardised study design for validation.”

Co-Director of CHeBA, Professor Henry Brodaty, says that results from the review may help researchers select candidate miRNAs for further investigation.

As part of her PhD research, Dr Wu will study the most promising miRNAs identified by the systematic review.

“Dr Wu’s research will provide insights for achieving early diagnosis of dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said Professor Brodaty. “At present, clinical diagnosis is occurring when the underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s disease is already advanced and there is irreparable damage. Early diagnosis will allow time for appropriate treatment, therapeutic care and support services.”

Dr Wu is supported by scholarship funding from the Roth Charitable Foundation, a Gold Member of The Dementia Momentum®, CHeBA’s latest initiative into changing dementia incidence.

Professor Brodaty said The Dementia Momentum’s approach of using standardised methodologies and international collaboration enables researchers to identify statistically significant findings more quickly and effectively, overcoming the issues identified in Dr Wu’s review.

“Ultimately, our goal is to drive momentum in awareness, research and societal change for a brighter future in healthy ageing.”