Globally, 44 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease, with 4.7 million of those living here in the United States. By 2050, that number will increase to nearly 14 million in the US and 115 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. As it currently stands, Alzheimer's may be the third leading cause of death in the United States, trailing only heart disease and cancer.
All of the before-mentioned statistics are reasons why the most recent news from the medical community concerning Alzheimer's disease can prove to be a groundbreaking game-changer.
In a recent report published online on March 9 by Nature Medicine , scientists may have devised a way to detect Alzheimer's disease through a simple blood test, potentially altering the life-threatening impact of the disease in the somewhat near future.
The research was conducted on 525 healthy people age 70 and older near Rochester, New York. To determine whether or not these patients would develop Alzheimer's, doctors drew blood samples and tested the presence of different fats (this being the simplest and cheapest test to complete). The results were astonishing.
Five years after the initial blood sample was taken, 28 of the seniors developed symptoms of Alzheimer's. When scientist compared the blood samples from these 28 people to their previous blood samples, one key difference was noted - The affected seniors displayed lower levels of 10 particular lipids commonly found in the bloodstream.
While the study shows much promise, it will not be mass-marketed until it can be tested and verified by many other labs to ensure causation.
"The preliminary findings of this study underscore the dire need for increased funding for Alzheimer's disease research. There are breakthroughs, like this, on the horizon, and we need to ensure that those working so hard to develop them have the financial resources they need to bring them to fruition," stated Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., the executive officer of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
With any new medical breakthrough comes impending ethical issues, however. Dr. Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, believes the knowledge which can be derived from such a test will be hard for certain individuals to handle: "How will other people interact with you if they learn that you have this information? And how will you think about your own brain and your sort of sense of self?"
On the other-hand, Mark Mapstone, co-author of the study, finds that such information could prove critical to future life-planning:
"In my experience, the majority of people are very interested to know whether they will get Alzheimer's. They believe that knowledge is power – particularly when it comes to your own health. We may not have any therapy yet but there are things we can do – we can get our financial and legal affairs in order, plan for future care, and inform family members."
Image via Wikimedia Commons