Researchers have said that new tests involving blood and brain scans can detect symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and appraisals of real-life functioning can predict who is likely to develop it. The tests will be critical, experts told the meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association in Washington, because more than 26 million people now have the brain-wasting disease and this number will quadruple, to 106 million, by 2050.
“By 2050, 1 in 85 persons worldwide will have Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ron Brookmeyer of Johns Hopkins University, who led the study on how many people have the disease. No drugs can significantly cure Alzheimer’s disease, although four have a very modest impact if given early.
The disease is very difficult to detect until it has progressed from mild memory loss to clear impairment. Patients eventually lose all ability to care for themselves.
Detecting the disease early can help patients and their families plan better for the future but can also help researchers develop drugs to treat and perhaps even prevent the disease. Anders Lonneborg and colleagues of DiaGenic, a biotech company based in Oslo, Norway, found a set of 96 genes that look different in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients. Their study involved more than 100 old people, half from memory clinics and half from centres for seniors, and confirmed Alzheimer’s in 85% cases. They identified genes related to the immune system to inflammation and to cell division. The company has applied to regulators in the US and Europe to approve the test, Lonneborg told the meeting.
Christos Davatzikos and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania used a combination of Positron emission tomography (PET) and MRI scans to diagnose Alzheimer’s. PET scans can be used to measure blood flow in the brain in real time, while magnetic resonance imaging or MRI can clearly show the shape and size of physical structures in the brain.
This method correctly found all 15 cases of mild cognitive impairment—a first step towards Alzheimer’s—and cleared 15 healthy volunteers.
“This abnormal pattern of brain structure and blood flow detected not only mild cognitive impairment but even earlier... when they were clinically normal,” Davatzikos told the news conference.
Deborah Barnes and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, developed a more low-tech approach that might be used by a family doctor.
Their study followed 3,300 elderly people for six years to see what factors best predicted who would begin to develop Alzheimer’s.
A combination of a few simple measures worked best. They included greater age, scores on a simplified version of a standard cognitive exam, the time it took to button a shirt and the time needed to walk five metres, being underweight, and not drinking any alcohol at all.
Another study underscored the value of watching someone’s weight. Dr James Mortimer of the University of South Florida in Tampa and colleagues have been studying 678 Catholic nuns, who have agreed to be studied and have donated their brains for research after death. The nuns who suddenly lost weight were far more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. In fact, even nuns who were never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were found to have the disease in their brains after they died, Mortimer said. “Unexplained weight loss in non-demented older people may be a very useful early symptom of disease,” Mortimer said.
Benefits of tea
Daily consumption of tea will ensure a healthy heart and protect against some cancers, among other benefits, according to new studies. A study conducted by universities in South Korea found that drinking at least one cup of tea a day could cut the risk of cancer in the gall bladder and bile ducts by about 40%.
Another study has concluded that drinking tea improves memory and protects against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Research also shows that five servings of black tea per day reduced LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol, by 11.1% and total cholesterol by 6.5%. (PTI)