The SYNTap test is newly available in most states to help diagnose those at risk of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body dementia. This is considered a game changer for treating dementia, as there has previously not been a reliable method for differentiating between Lewy Body dementia and other dementias including Alzheimer’s disease.
Telling the difference is important, because treatments and therapies can be successful for slowing down the progression of dementia if a correct diagnosis is made.
For those at risk of Lewy Body dementia or Parkinson’s because of genetic or family histories, SYNTap can detect the presence of protein tangles that cause those diseases years before symptoms occur, and early diagnosis is important for managing symptoms and improving one’s quality of life.
The SYNTap is a biomarker test for detecting Lewy Bodies in spinal fluid. Lewy Bodies are clumps or misfolds of alpha-synuclein proteins which have been found (during autopsies after death) in the brains of people with Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson’s, Multiple System Atrophy, and other brain diseases.
Made by the California company Amprion, the test is available commercially in most states. The process for taking the SYNTap test is that a medical professional removes, via spinal tap or lumbar puncture, a few drops of cerebrospinal fluid and sends them to the Amprion’s laboratory. In the lab, Lewy Bodies can be identified using a fluorescent probe. Results are reported back to the patient’s doctor in about two weeks.
A negative SYNTap test means the disease-causing protein folds (Lewy Bodies) have not been detected in an individual, while a positive test indicates they are present. Someone who receives a positive test would then work with medical specialists on treatment including medication and therapies to slow the progression of symptoms and maintain high quality of life for as long as possible.
Anyone who wants a SYNTap test should talk to their doctor, or click here.
Lewy Body dementia has symptoms similar to other diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, and because of this it is often misdiagnosed. For someone with LBD, an accurate diagnosis is important because certain medications that would normally be prescribed to help symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, like anticholinergics, can actually be harmful to someone with LBD.
Further, caregivers and loved ones will want to be as familiar as possible with the disease so they can better understand symptoms and how to interact. Someone with LBD, for example, will have larger mood swings from day to day. And the home will need to be made safer sooner for someone with LBD, as balance is typically worse than with other forms of dementia. (See more on Home Safety Measures for persons with dementia.)
The same alpha-synuclein tangles detected by the SYNTap test are present in both Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The way to tell the difference after a positive test is via symptoms:
– Parkinson’s disease: Someone with movement or functional symptoms only is likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
– Lewy Body dementia: Mental (cognitive) symptoms like memory loss and/or hallucinations make a diagnosis of LBD likely.
The SYNTap test is designed to test individuals who have either of these considerations:
– Symptoms of brain disease, both in thinking ability and motor functions
– Higher risk due to genetics or family history of Parkinson’s disease or Lewy Body dementia
Someone showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, usually beginning with memory loss (click here for a full list) would want to take a SYNTap test to help determine whether they have Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, a mixed dementia or another type of brain disease.
Someone with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease might also consider taking the SYNTap test, because about 40% of brains with Alzheimer’s have shown the alpha-synuclein protein tangles the test detects. If these protein tangles are present, it may affect how the Alzheimer’s disease progresses and which treatments are best for managing symptoms.
The cost of a SYNTap test is $1,500 for the lab test. The company Amprion is working with private insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid to get the cost of the test covered, so someone who takes the test would not need to pay out-of-pocket. Until then, the company sends a bill to the patient after the lab runs its SYNTap test.
Despite the SYNTap Tests availibility in most states, it has not yet received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, but the FDA did give Amprion a “Breakthrough Device” designation as a review continues. This means the test is considered effective for making diagnoses, and there is not a viable alternative. Amprion is in the process of seeking full FDA approval, which would make it more likely to be covered by insurance.