Test gives early alert on Alzheimer's disease: An American advance raises hope that people at risk can be detected sooner. James Cusick reports
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Monday 02 August 1993
Although this test can only identify the disease once it is established, there are hopes that tests can be developed to identify those at risk of Alzheimer's. Up to 500,000 people in Britain have the disease. Precise details of the research at the National Institute of Health are being held back until the formal launch of the patent in the US next week. However, on the first day of the International Union of Physiological Sciences congress in Glasgow, Dr Alkon said research on how simple creatures such as molluscs had stored information in their limited memory had formed the foundation of the work at the NIH.
Over the past eight years, Dr Alkon has pioneered the detective work in identifying the series of molecular events needed for an organism to develop a memory record. The Alzheimer's test has come since the research has moved on to study the memory of mammals.
Dr Alkon described the human brain as like a complex wiring circuit 'with millions of neurones and trillions of synapses' - the communication junctions between nerve cells. The key to the new test is that in Alzheimer's sufferers, where memory has degenerated, part of the body's circuitry involved in the memory process is missing. The missing or malfunctioning area affected centres on one of a number of 'potassium channels', which are critical to the ability to store and retrieve information. In people diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, activity in one of the body's 15 or 20 potassium channels is absent. The test will be the first laboratory diagnosis of Alzheimer's, which has until now relied on lengthy and imprecise clinical evaluation. Dr Alkon said that he hoped 'prediction techniques' would now evolve.
In another study to be highlighted at the congress, the body's production of nitric oxide could throw light on the processes involved in the disease.
Recent research shows that nitric oxide, normally regarded as a pollutant outside the body, acts inside as a chemical signal to control other functions. In the brain, where cell communication is the basis of memory and learning, it is now believed that defective nitric oxide production may be involved in Alzheimer's.
A team led by Dr Eric Flitney from the University of St Andrews will also outline findings that show that drugs which impair nitric oxide production can slow rates at which cancers grow. Other new research to be delivered at the congress, which runs until 6 August, includes how the use of super- computers is helping to understand the human heart, and advances in the understanding of cystic fibrosis.
How new blood vessels grow, how the cells that line blood vessels work, and how new drugs can block blood vessel growth, will also be discussed at a two-day symposium. The new drugs are potent inhibitors of the growth of solid tumours because cancer cells need blood vessels to survive.
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...