Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Senior Citizens May Soon Have Blood
Test to Predict Alzheimer’s Risk with 90% Accuracy
Report in Nature Medicine on
discovery in study of seniors over age 70; NPR reports on consequences
of knowing – see
video in story
Dr. Howard Federoff,
right, led study at Georgetown University Medical Center to
discover blood test to predict Alzheimer's disease.
See video below.
March 9, 2014 – If you are a senior
citizens over age 70 a new blood test can predict with 90 percent
accuracy if you will develop Alzheimer’s disease in the next two or
three years. The new discovery still must go through clinical testing
before being available for general use but now seniors will have to
consider if this is information they really want to know.
The study, led by neurologist
Howard Federoff of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington
DC, is published today in
Nature Medicine. He and his colleagues studied 525
seniors over the age of 70.
They tested those in the study for
cognitive and memory ability and took their blood samples about once a
year over a five year period. They further studied the blood results of
53 with mild cognitive impairment – or AD – including 18 who developed
disease symptoms during the testing, and another 53 who remained
They found ten complex lipids,
known as phospholipids, that were present at consistently lower levels
in the blood of most people who had, or went on to develop, cognitive
impairment. The team validated the results in a set of 41 further
participants and determined the 90 percent accuracy.
A report on the study today by
National Public Radio says, “The finding could lead to a quick and
easy way for seniors to assess their risk of Alzheimer's, says
Dr. Howard Federoff,
a professor of neurology at Georgetown University. And that would be a
‘game changer,’ he says, if researchers find a treatment that can slow
down or stop the disease.
“But because there is still no way
to halt Alzheimer's, Federoff says, people considering the test would
have to decide whether they are prepared to get results that ‘could be
He emphasizes that his results will
have to be validated by others and larger studies: “We also have to look
at different age groups and a more diverse racial mix, and we need
longer study periods.”
Do we really want to know?
Jon Hamilton, in his report on
NPR, quoted and paraphrased Dr. Jason Karlawish, professor of medicine, medical
ethics and health policy, University of Pennsylvania, on the ethics of
being able to predict Alzheimer’s -
"That knowledge can be a good
thing. That's been shown among people who chose to be tested for a gene
that increases the risk of Alzheimer's.
"Knowing their risk of
developing cognitive impairment is very relevant to making plans around
retirement and where they live. So there is certainly a role
for knowing that information.
"On the other hand, people who
have the Alzheimer's gene and know it tend to rate their own memories as
worse than people who have the gene but don't know it. And
knowing you carry the gene also seems to hurt people's performance on
"But the biggest concern about Alzheimer's testing
probably has to do with questions of stigma and identity. How will other people interact with you if
they learn that you have this information? And how will you think about
your own brain and your sort of sense of self?
"The stigma and fear surrounding Alzheimer's may
decrease, though, as our understanding of the disease changes. Right now, people still tend to think that
either you have Alzheimer's disease dementia or you're normal, you
don't have it.
"But research has shown that's not really true. Alzheimer's is a bit like heart
disease. It starts with biological changes that occur years before
symptoms appear. And there is no bright line separating healthy people
from those in early stages of the disease."
“There is not yet a good treatment
for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 35 million people worldwide,”
says Simon Lovestone, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK,
who was quoted in the
Nature Medicine report on the study.
“Several promising therapies have
been tested in clinical trials over the last few years, but all have
failed. However, those trials involved people who had already developed
symptoms. Many neuroscientists fear that any benefits of a treatment
would be missed in such a study, because it could be impossible to halt
the disease once it has manifested. “We desperately need biomarkers
which would allow patients to be identified — and recruited into trials
— before their symptoms begin.”
>> Original report, associated
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