Imagine there was a way to tell if you would be stricken with Alzheimer’s 20 years from now? Would you want to know?
That is a dilemma plaguing researchers at Brunel University in London. Scientists are in the process of developing a 30 second spot test for Alzheimer’s in people in their 40s. It’s a simple procedure that could provide evidence of the disease before the symptoms show up. The hope is that it could lead to routine screening for dementia in the next two years.
However, not everyone wants to see their future, especially if they know their fate involves a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s. Another concern is that for those that test positive, insurance premiums could skyrocket at a time when affordable health care is already a huge problem for many.
These concerns are weighed against the possibility of early intervention. According to David Bunce, research leader, “The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease onset.”
The research involved brain scans to locate tiny lesions in the white matter of the brain. The test subjects were healthy men and women age 44 to 48. Of the 428 people tested, about 15% had abnormalities in their brain. More research to detect early stage Alzheimer’s.
Another research team at the University College of London employed lumbar puncture coupled with a brain scan. They checked for brain shrinkage with the scan and the presence of low levels of amyloid protein in the cerebrospinal fluid.
The findings revealed that low CSF levels of amyloid correlates with brain shrinkage that occurs twice as quickly as a group with normal levels of amyloid protein. This group was also five times more likely to have an Alzheimer’s risk gene as well as high levels or another Alzheimer’s protein called tau.
OK, that’s a lot of medical jargon right there. But it is
extremely important in the future of Alzheimer’s research, detection, and treatment.
At the present time, doctors can accurately diagnose 90% of Alzheimer’s cases. However, the only way to diagnose with complete accuracy is by microscopic examination of the brain after death. Only then can the evidence of Alzheimer’s plaques be definitively established. The medical community relies on blood tests to rule out of causes of dementia as well as neuropsychological testing.
The inability to accurately detect Alzheimer’s is frustrating but the new research could prove central in treatment. Early treatment means a much higher chance of success in most all diseases and Alzheimer’s isn’t likely to be an exception.