Still no cure, but the discovery of a simple advance warning test for Alzheimer's holds great promise

It will still take some years before this test can be developed into a commercial form

Share

A simple test for Alzheimer’s disease that can accurately predict whether someone is going to develop this distressing condition could be seen as raising more problems than it is worth. Leaving aside its 90 per cent accuracy, which could lead to one in 10 people being given a “false positive” result, one may wonder what good could come from confirmation of a condition for which there is no cure.

Would anyone welcome being told that they are going to develop – and very likely die from – an incurable disorder that will eventually rob them of their memories, emotions and personality over a period of many years?

There is little doubt that Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia in general, is one of the most formidable health challenges facing Britain, and indeed the world, in the 21st century. Some 800,000 people in the United Kingdom already have some form of dementia, more than half of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s. With our increasing lifespans this figure is set to rise to more than a million within 10 years and by a further 1.7 million by mid-century. And all these people will need care for the rest of their lives – sometimes for several decades.

At present, it is only possible to diagnose Alzheimer’s and dementia when the symptoms become apparent, which is long after the machinery of the brain has already begun to malfunction at a biochemical level.  However a simple blood test which  provides an early warning two or three years in advance of its onset has now been achieved by scientists at Georgetown University in  Washington. This is a considerable scientific breakthrough.

It will still take some years before this test can be developed into a commercial form that is properly validated for false negative and false positive accuracy. Even so, some medical ethicists may wonder what good such a test will do given that there is no current effective treatment for Alzheimer’s.

This is not the first time that medical science has been here. A blood test for HIV was available long before there was an effective treatment for Aids in the form of anti-retroviral drugs. As soon as it became obvious that Aids was not an inevitable death sentence, the HIV test was touted as a vital weapon against the disease because it identified those who needed therapy.

This blood test for Alzheimer’s therefore should not be seen simply as a way of signalling the thumbs-up or thumbs-down for a possible death sentence. It should be welcomed rather as a means of better understanding this  complicated brain disease by giving scientists early warning of who is going to develop the condition.

One in three of us will suffer dementia at some time over the age of 65. Being able to identify, at an early stage, which of us will go down this path could rapidly accelerate the rate of scientific discovery, leading to more effective therapies, whether they are based on drugs or some kind of early cognitive intervention to delay the onset of the decline.

So we should not be afraid of this test for Alzheimer’s. We should welcome it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits