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Alzheimer's Early Detection Research

Time Magazine for Wednesday 26 August 2009 contained an article by Alice Park on work now being conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic into a new method of early detection of Alzheimer's. "What Britney Spears Can Reveal About Alzheimer's"

The article says "they may have found a way to identify those most at risk of developing the neurological disorder long before symptoms develop - simply by asking them whether they recognize celebrities such as Britney Spears and Johnny Carson. It turns out that when people who are at highest risk of Alzheimer's try to recognize a famous name, their brains activate in very different ways from those of people who aren't at risk...scientists can actually see this difference using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI."

Reported in the journal "Neurology".  "team led by Stephen Rao, a brain imaging of 69 healthy men and women aged 65 to 85...Rao's team found that when volunteers saw names such as Britney Spears, George Clooney, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, those who were at the highest risk of developing Alzheimer's - those with the genetic makeup (Version of gene for a protein called apolipoprotein E4..(ApoE4) and a family history - showed high levels of activity in the hippocampus, posterior cingulate and regions of the frontal cortex, all areas involved in memory. The control group showed the opposite pattern. Their brains became more excited when they saw unfamiliar names, which included Irma Jacoby, Joyce O'Neil and Virginia Warfield....This could mean that the at risk people were working harder to recognize the well known celebrities, compensating for already damaged or destroyed neurons that were no longer functioning, while the control group had to struggle only when trying to place the names of noncelebrities."

"The idea is not necessarily to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier, says Rao. But imaging studies can help to identify those most vulnerable to cognitive decline so they can participate in clinical trials of new drugs designed to postpone or reduce symptoms."

Note: I doubt very much that clinical trials will ever be based on pools of individuals that have been detected through the large numbers of testing needed for such a selection process...At the present time there are no drugs available to postpone or effectively reduce symptoms. Would the average person care to know this information if at the same time nothing can be done but worry...The early part of the article stated: "the disease has already been ravaging the brain for a decade or more, causing irreversible damage...However, .according to Knopman of the Mayo Alzheimer's research department, it is far longer than a decade...(He talks of 2-3 decades.)  In July 2009, Dr. Knopman was quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as stating: "Despite years of research, drug companies have struggled to find an effective treatment. Part of the problem, Dr. Knopman says, is timing: Symptoms only surface 20 to 30 years after patients develop the disease. By then, it's too late"  This is certainly an interesting development but does it have practical value?  We need more attention to finding a cure and less to early detection.


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