Thursday, November 11, 2010

Identifying Alzheimer's

This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an article from the New York Times on several studies that are trying to discover the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease. One study is on a family group in Colombia whose members often carry a genetic mutation that guarantees that they will develop Alzheimer's, usually in their 40s. The leaders of this project are trying to identify the very earliest brain changes so that they can develop more effective treatments and possibly preventions. The question that must be asked, however, is whether successful identification and treatment in this population can be applied to sufferers of other forms of Alzhiemer's disease.

Several months ago I listened to an interview with Dr Peter Whitehouse, co-author of the book The Myth of Alzheimer's, on Dr Ginger Cambell's Brain Science podcast #68. Dr Whitehouse takes issue with the use of Alzheimer's disease as a blanket name for many different types of dementia, and wonders whether the widespread use of the term obscures the truth about the range of brain changes that it covers.

All well-conducted scientific research adds to our overall understanding, there's no question about that. The results of the Colombian study will be interesting, and it will be great if they are more widely applicable. At the very least, I hope they will allow for a better quality of life for those carrying the specific genetic mutation that casts such a gloomy shadow over this particular family group.

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