NfL Blood Test May Help Diagnose Neurodegenerative Diseases

Early diagnosis enables treatment when progression can be better slowed

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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A dropper squirts out droplets of blood alongside several vials of blood.

Labcorp has launched a test to detect the presence of a protein called neurofilament light chain (NfL) in the blood, a sign of nerve cell damage and death.

The test will aid neurologists in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, according to the company’s press release. Early diagnosis will allow patients to access treatment and care at disease stages when there’s a greater chance that progression can be slowed.

“NfL is a simple, objective blood test that provides direct evidence of neuronal damage,” said Brian Caveney, MD, chief medical officer and president of Labcorp Diagnostics. “In making this test widely available, Labcorp is supporting neurologists with a tool they’ve been asking for that enables faster diagnoses, better treatment decisions and improved patient care. It’s a major step forward in the monitoring and identification of patients with neuronal injury due to disease or trauma.”

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Neurological diseases are often diagnosed after the onset of symptoms. Neurofilaments are proteins exclusively found in nerve cells that are released into the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that bathes the central nervous system composed of the brain and spinal cord) and into blood upon damage.

Elevated NfL levels, one of the three main neurofilament components, has been proposed as a biomarker of nerve cell damage in Parkinson’s, as well as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Despite this, reliable blood tests for NfL are lacking, according to Labcorp.

“NfL isn’t specific to one disease, but it is highly specific to neuronal damage from a wide variety of causes, from Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis to concussion and physical injury. This test will be impactful in helping many patients,” said Joseph Volpe, PhD, discipline director of clinical neuroscience at Labcorp. “Serial use of NfL testing can help doctors to follow trends that indicate the effectiveness of medicines or therapies, or whether there is continued injury or disease progression.”

The blood test for NfL can be performed using a standard blood sample collected in a hospital, at a physician’s office, or at any of Labcorp’s patient service centers.

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