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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 cognitively healthy.

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 life-altering.’”

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 memory tests.

"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 information at Nature.com.
 

 

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Read the latest news on Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

 

 

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