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Would You Want to Know if Alzheimer's Disease is in Your Future?

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Scientists at Georgetown University have found a way to determine if a person has a good chance of developing Alzheimer's disease within three years. The test was identified in a preliminary study involving 525 people aged over 70. The work identified a set of ten lipid metabolites in blood plasma that distinguished with 90% accuracy between people who would remain cognitively healthy from those who would go on to show signs of cognitive impairment.

The latest study, which is published in Nature Medicine, was led by neurologist Howard Federoff of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC. He and his colleagues tested the participants' cognitive and memory skills, and took blood samples from them, around once a year for five years. They used mass spectrometry to analyse the blood plasma of 53 participants with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, including 18 who developed symptoms during the study, and 53 who remained cognitively healthy. They found ten 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.1

“We don’t really know the source of the ten molecules, though we know they are generally present in cell membranes,” says Federoff. But he proposes that concentrations of the phospholipids might somehow reflect the breakdown of neural-cell membranes. Federoff emphasizes that his results will have to be validated in independent labs, and in much larger studies: “We also have to look at different age groups and a more diverse racial mix, and we need longer study periods.” 1

What are the pros and cons of learning that you will probably succumb to Alzheimer's disease?
Pros:
1. It gives you time to get things in order, including financial and interpersonal affairs.
2. You might make an extra effort to check things off your bucket list.
3. When the blood test becomes available, there might be drugs available that do a better job of staving off symptoms of the disease, that you could take advantage of.
4. A positive test result would allow you to participate in a clinical trial that might help you personally, and might also change the future for other Alzheimer's disease patients.
5. Learning that you might develop Alzheimer's disease could provide the impetus to live as well as possible by exercising, eating a nutritious diet, and reducing bad habits such as smoking and drinking too much.
Cons:
1. Learning that you will probably start losing your mind could have a negative impact on your emotional and mental well being.

Reference

1. Mapstone, M. et al. Nature Med. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm.3466 (2014)

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