Thursday, March 27, 2014
Occasionally on this Blog we post to studies suggesting cutting edge scientific developments connected to Alzheimer's. For example, last October, our colleague Professor Dayton, provided a link to a study in England described as a possible "breakthrough" in Alzheimer's research related to misfolded proteins in the brain. John O'Connor, the executive director for McKnight's Long-Term Care News, recently offered his own reaction to such news, following release of a different study:
"Here we go again: This week saw the release of yet another breathless study claiming the cure for Alzheimer's disease is getting closer — maybe.
The latest incantation is a report in Nature Genetics. This entry touts an international study of the disease that may help us unlock a cure. Unless, of course, it doesn't.
It seems like we get treated to at least one or two of these “important breakthrough” studies every month, sometimes more. And the plot seldom varies: Earnest investigators working countless hours have issued a report that may bring us closer to a cure. Then, tucked somewhere in the back is a mention that, ahem, more research is needed."
As with Mr. O'Connor, I suspect many of us have experienced "breakthrough fatigue" in the area of Alzheimer's research. Nonetheless, I am going to point to another study, this time suggesting a blood test targeting biomarkers that "may be sensitive to early neurodegeneration of preclinical Alzheimer's disease," and thus predictive of "either amnestic mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease within a 2-3 year time frame." The report on "Plasma Phospholipids Identify Antecedent Memory Impairment in Older Adults" is in the March 2014 issue of the journal Nature Medicine and despite the somewhat intimidating title, it makes for interesting reading.
But my real question is not about the value of the study, or as John O'Connor's essay suggests, concerns about the potential for hype to generate false hope, but whether many would actually be horrified by a predictor of future cognitive impairment within 2 to 3 years, even (especially?) one with "over 90% accuracy." I can think of several people I've known who worried about their "failing memory," sometimes for years, but who expressly rejected seeing a specialist for testing. Without a solution, such tests might be the ultimate example of the unfunny joke: Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first? We know what's going to happen to you -- but you aren't going to like it.