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New Blood Test Can Detect Alzheimers

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the so-you-can-remain-nerdy dept.

Medicine 102

kkleiner writes "Samantha Burnham and her colleagues from the Australian national research organization CSIRO caused quite a buzz at the latest Alzheimer's Association International Conference when they announced that a blood test was effective at detecting Alzheimer's in patients. The screen works by measuring the blood levels of nine different proteins or hormones. Routine blood tests could lead to earlier diagnoses and prove invaluable in efforts to treat the disease early and eventually find a cure."

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102 comments

Ddddettect whatttt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862612)

Detteteettect whhattt aggagaigain ???

Good. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862614)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

This would probably work better in a country with socialised medicine, rather than one where people are afraid of their health insurers finding out about pre-existing conditions.

They tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862698)

They tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

Bad. (1)

Captain Kirk (148843) | about 3 years ago | (#36862842)

Alzheimers can be 20 years in your body before it causes problems. There is no effective treatment. Forcing people to take this test early would simply mean that otherwise healthy people have 20 years of their lives ruined waiting for Alzheimers before the disease itself starts to affect them.

Really its like you didn't read the article :p

Re:Bad. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862962)

Erm ..... there's lots of potential treatments. Dopamine reuptake inhibitors, for example. Like nicotine. I've spent a fair chunk of my life around old people in their 70s and 80s, and the ones that had smoked all their lives had WAY better mental functions than those who had abstained. Of course, a good chunk of the smokers were already dead from lung cancer, which adds some bias to the sample.

Re:Bad. (1)

g253 (855070) | about 3 years ago | (#36863684)

electronic cigarettes FTW :)

Re:Bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864048)

Nicotine is a carcinogen, this will not help a lot.

Re:Bad. (1)

g253 (855070) | about 3 years ago | (#36864998)

Is it though? I'm quoting from Wikipedia, so take with a grain of salt, but:

The carcinogenic properties of nicotine in standalone form, separate from tobacco smoke, have not been evaluated by the IARC, and it has not been assigned to an official carcinogen group. The currently available literature indicates that nicotine, on its own, does not promote the development of cancer in healthy tissue and has no mutagenic properties. However, nicotine and the increased cholinergic activity it causes have been shown to impede apoptosis, which is one of the methods by which the body destroys unwanted cells (programmed cell death). Since apoptosis helps to remove mutated or damaged cells that may eventually become cancerous, the inhibitory actions of nicotine may create a more favourable environment for cancer to develop, though this also remains to be proven

Re:Bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864062)

I've done Alzheimer's research for years. Your personal observation is worth bollucks.

Re:Bad. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 years ago | (#36868434)

Erm ..... there's lots of potential treatments.

And demonstrated treatments (usual criteria : safe + effective) ?

Re:Bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862968)

"There is no effective treatment. "

You are SO wrong.
Many researchers believe degenerative disease could be from:
malnutrition
heavy metals
chemical poisoning

In each case there are diagnostic and therapeutic avenues available.

Mod this idiot down please. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36865940)

He's promoting alt med crap again. There are treatments for Alzheimers in development, but they have nothing to do with what he's talking about. He's promoting the "Eat organic and buy my expensive chelation treatments!" snake oil.

Re:Bad. (2)

OliWarner (1529079) | about 3 years ago | (#36863018)

Unless there's something they could be doing for that 20 years to help stay off the disease.

I certainly see your point, but there are clinical suggestions that some (and it is only some) patients benefit from certain mental exercises and diets.

Re:Bad. (2)

BitterOak (537666) | about 3 years ago | (#36864604)

Alzheimers can be 20 years in your body before it causes problems. There is no effective treatment. Forcing people to take this test early would simply mean that otherwise healthy people have 20 years of their lives ruined waiting for Alzheimers before the disease itself starts to affect them.

Really its like you didn't read the article :p

But given the type of care that Alzheimers patients require, wouldn't it make sense to spend those 20 years making arrangements and saving money for that care? Alzheimers can put an extreme burden (financial as well as emotional) on family members, so it seems to me irresponsible and selfish to simply bury your head in the sand and insist on not being told that you have this incredibly burdensome disease.

Re:Bad. (1)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#36865404)

Alzheimers can be 20 years in your body before it causes problems. There is no effective treatment. Forcing people to take this test early would simply mean that otherwise healthy people have 20 years of their lives ruined waiting for Alzheimers before the disease itself starts to affect them.

Really its like you didn't read the article :p

There may or may not be a cure today. But there are certainly things you can do [nwitimes.com] in 20 years by way of prevention and avoidance.

Key "prevent alzheimer's" into google new some day.

Even if only 1 in 10 of these things actually worked, 20 years is a long lead time. If you can stall manifestation off a few years who knows what might come from research over that period.

Re:Bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36868960)

Looks you didn't read the parent post - you missed the word "voluntary" and somehow assumed that the test would be "forced".

Re:Good. (1)

mister_dave (1613441) | about 3 years ago | (#36862866)

You're assuming that on average, medical treatment does more good, than harm? Not sure that's true.

Re:Good. (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | about 3 years ago | (#36863090)

Not necessarily--maybe you only get treatment where there's more good than harm. Problem is we don't have good statistics on that because most people lie about it.

Re:Good. (1)

mister_dave (1613441) | about 3 years ago | (#36863954)

Changing the subject, the oxford comma debate [telegraph.co.uk] is raging across the interwebs:

The Oxford comma is entering that zombie half-life where all dying grammatical rules survive for a while – appreciated only by the prissy and the fussy. It’s better to kill off the poor, awkward thing, rather than let it linger on, unhappily, between the covers of books published by Oxford University Press.

Re:Good. (1)

dhasenan (758719) | about 3 years ago | (#36864268)

This isn't an oxford comma; the oxford comma separates the penultimate member of a list of at least three elements from the corresponding "and".

No, this is a community college comma, slinking in where it's unwanted out of a shameful, uncertain desire to appease prescriptivists without the requisite knowledge.

Re:Good. (1)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#36862876)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

This would probably work better in a country with ...

... euthanasia, otherwise they'll just run up higher bills before croaking. So if my relative made the hospital $25K/month for liver cancer treatment, and they diagnosed him a month before he died, they made $25K. If somehow diagnosed 10 months before death, they could have made $25K/month for ten months, earning a quarter mil of revenue for the hospital, at a cost of losing nine months of "normal life" for the patient. Hmm more money for the medical industrial complex, lowered quality of life for the patient, according to the hospital management, whats not to love?

Now if you meant to write chronic instead of terminal, like high blood pressure or glaucoma, you'd have an excellent point.

My grandmother had glaucoma... I'm scared to get tested, because if I do have it, I may never get any form of medical care again, and what if I break my leg in a car accident 3 years from now? I don't want to go blind in 3 decades, but I don't want to be crippled and/or live under a freeway overpass in 3 years without any medical care, so its quite a decision to make...

Re:Good. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 3 years ago | (#36862984)

I'm scared to get tested, because if I do have it, I may never get any form of medical care again

I'm going to assume you meant "health insurance" rather than "medical care" here. Glaucoma isn't going to get you rejected, especially if it's under control, but you also have another option if you want to be paranoid: pay cash and use a fake name when you get tested. If positive, stress that you are paying cash for your meds and then use a fake name at the pharmacy.

Fake name (1)

warrax_666 (144623) | about 3 years ago | (#36863142)

I'd suggest using the name McLovin. It always fools them.

Re:Good. (1)

g253 (855070) | about 3 years ago | (#36864044)

Or, if that's possible for him, he could move to one of the many available more civilised countries where people live rather happily in the knowledge that if they should get ill or injured, they will be treated regardless of their financial situation.
It is always puzzling, even shocking, to me as a European to read about people thinking of disease or injury in terms of cost. There is of course a cost, but why should it be borne by the citizen? Everyone pays for police, so that everyone can benefit from their protection. It seems very strange to me not to apply the same approach to medical care.

Re:Good. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 3 years ago | (#36864404)

why should it be borne by the citizen?

Because he receives the benefit. Police are like national defense: their benefit is largely to society as a whole, not to specific individuals. I can't tell you which police officer prevents my house from being robbed at night, because there is no one police officer that does so. It's the presence of a policing system that prevents that. By contrast, someone who receives health care is simply receiving a clearly defined benefit like any other welfare program. Countries may choose to provide that welfare benefit, or not, just like any other.

The US has public health care provisions through Medicare (for the elderly) and Medicaid (administered by the states, partly funded by the federal government, provides for the indigent and children). You hear quite a lot of complaint here on /. because healthy men are the one slice of the demographic spectrum that cannot qualify for public health care due to poverty. (Women are covered if they are pregnant or have small children at home, for example.)

Don't forget, too, that Americans who have health insurance are accustomed to a very high standard of care and comfort - hospital rooms are large and private, waits even for elective procedures are very short (usually a matter of a few days to a week). Most people are reluctant to exchange something that they know well for something that they don't, especially when they're happy with it. Over 80% of Americans with insurance are happy with it [go.com] . It's not too surprising, then that they keep rejecting various proposals that always end up sounding like taking the worst aspects of British and Canadian health care and combining them. I think that something like the French system would be pretty effective in the US, but the Republicans won't bring up the subject and the Democrats keep suggesting bad ideas.

Re:Good. (1)

g253 (855070) | about 3 years ago | (#36865082)

Thanks a lot for your very informative reply - I would argue that if I should need medical assistance I can go to any random doctor (and will be taken to the nearest hospital in case of emergency), and that society as a whole benefits from the protection of people's health just as it does from the protection of their rights, property, physical integrity etc., so I'm not sure I agree with your distinction - but I now have a much better understanding of how and why the US healthcare system is the way it is.

Re:Good. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 3 years ago | (#36865726)

I'm happy to help; our system is poorly understood even within this country. I'd like to address one more thing:

if I should need medical assistance I can go to any random doctor (and will be taken to the nearest hospital in case of emergency)

A doctor's office may choose to treat you on a cash basis (or not), but the emergency department does not have that choice. They must treat you for any acute issues, although this does nothing to handle chronic problems. The law is called EMTALA [wikipedia.org] , and violations of it are severely punished. They can and will bill you for the services, of course, but in general the situation is much less dire than is imagined in much of the rest of the world - you cannot be left bleeding at the site of a car wreck for lack of insurance, which is one of the reasons that so many young, healthy people elect not to buy health insurance (even if they can afford it).

Re:Good. (1)

Arterion (941661) | about 3 years ago | (#36868074)

I am curious how many people who are young and healthy that can afford health insurance actually elect not to purchase it. I think if they can afford it, they probably have a reasonably good job, and most of those provide health care. I really don't see this segment of the population that is supposedly "abusing" the system, as it were. I'm young and more or less healthy, and the only time I've been able to afford health insurance, it was being provided to me by my employer. Of course, I've since been laid off and decided to go to college, and I definitely cannot afford health insurance, but I certainly wish I could.

Re:Good. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 3 years ago | (#36870014)

I can't speak for others, but when I was in medical school I paid about $150/mo for health insurance - this was during the early 2000s. My in-laws have a high deductible coverage (basically a traditional major medical) that covers the two of them for a little over $400/mo, and they're in their late 50s. He's a salesman working purely on commission, so it's not through an employer. $200 a month, per person, is pretty affordable for all but the poorest. If you don't have a job, of course, everything gets harder, but for those who have income it's less of a burden than many think.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36867568)

The cynic in me says it's because police carry guns, and there is a strong lobby group in the US that wants as many people walking about with guns as possible. There is no well funded lobby group that wants universal health care.

Re:Good. (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | about 3 years ago | (#36868618)

> Over 80% of Americans with insurance are happy with it

Interesting wording. Now, how many Americans *have* insurance?

Re:Good. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about 3 years ago | (#36870208)

The vast majority have some form of coverage. This [about.com] is the first Google hit and says 85%. Of the 46 million who didn't, 10 million were not citizens, 14 million were eligible for coverage under Medicaid or SCHIP but had not actually applied, and over 14 million made more than $50k/yr (and so could presumably afford coverage). Those numbers come from some Census data and a Blue Cross study, and there may be some overlap among groups, but they should give you some idea of the general numbers. In short - about 90% are covered, a nontrivial portion of those who are not could afford to buy insurance but choose not to, and some would not be covered at all under any plan.

Re:Good. (3, Insightful)

mickwd (196449) | about 3 years ago | (#36863650)

"I'm scared to get tested, because if I do have it, I may never get any form of medical care again, and what if I break my leg in a car accident 3 years from now? I don't want to go blind in 3 decades, but I don't want to be crippled and/or live under a freeway overpass in 3 years without any medical care, so its quite a decision to make..."

Then if you ever have the chance, maybe you should move to a first-world country - you know, the kind with enough money, and a society as a whole that cares enough about everyone in it and decides everyone should have access to free healthcare, paid for by general taxation.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36869170)

Suggestions? The USA is obviously out, and the EU is less obviously out (with the Euro bailout already exceeding 50% of the EU budget). Norway and Switzerland are exceptions, but they manage to stay afloat not in the least because they've severly restricted immigration even from other Western countries. Japan isn't exactly a country with enough money, not a liberal immigration policy. Australia doesn't have free healthcare, afaict. Canada might be your only option.

No, really, moving to another country isn't a very Insightful suggestion when you actually evaluate your options.

Re:Good. (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 3 years ago | (#36871422)

a first-world country - you know, the kind with enough money, and a society as a whole that cares enough about everyone in it and decides everyone should have access to free healthcare, paid for by general taxation.

You don't get to redefine words to meet your political preferences. The phrase 'socialist democracy' is already available and apt to describe the type of place you like to live. Some places value freedom more than safety and that's their business to decide. The economic fate of each will be seen soon enough.

Is there an insecurity you have about using the proper terms that you wish to co-op others?

Re:Good. (1)

Dahamma (304068) | about 3 years ago | (#36863730)

So if my relative made the hospital $25K/month for liver cancer treatment, and they diagnosed him a month before he died, they made $25K. If somehow diagnosed 10 months before death, they could have made $25K/month for ten months, earning a quarter mil of revenue for the hospital, at a cost of losing nine months of "normal life" for the patient. Hmm more money for the medical industrial complex, lowered quality of life for the patient, according to the hospital management, whats not to love?

And if he were diagnosed 2 years before (potential) death, he could have received treatment and potentially lived a relatively normal life for another 10-20 years. Cancer is very often not "terminal" if treated early.

Re:Good. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#36862898)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

This would probably work better in a country with socialised medicine, rather than one where people are afraid of their health insurers finding out about pre-existing conditions.

From a lecture by Dr. Ned Calonge, the chairman of the United States Preventive Services Task Force, “There are five things that can happen as a result of screening tests, and four of them are bad.” The problem with screening tests is that they lead to other tests / outcomes that might not help - in fact they might hurt. It can lead to falsely positive or falsely negative tests. The cure might be worse than the disease.

Careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863062)

So improve the tests. An enormous amount of money is spent on medical R&D every year - let's take a small fraction of that and spend it on R&D projects that aren't designed to turn a profit - like improving diagnostic blood tests.

Obviously the US will never do this, but the EU/Japan/China might decide it's a good idea eventually.

Re:Good. (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | about 3 years ago | (#36864096)

The U.S. will spend ~$30 Billion though the National Institutes of Health doing medial research. Research without a goal of making a profit.

Obviously you know crap about the U.S.

Re:Good. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863084)

If everyone was tested, there would be more attention paid to deal correctly with the outcomes of testing.

Re:Good. (0)

arth1 (260657) | about 3 years ago | (#36863176)

If everyone was tested, there would be more attention paid to deal correctly with the outcomes of testing.

That depends on your definition of "correctly". Hospitals and the doctors they own will "correctly" use this to augment their income. Insurance companies will "correctly" use this to decrease their expenditure.
In both cases, to maximize the profit for the shareholders - any improvement for the people being actually tested will at most be incidental.

And, why should I have to (a) pay to be tested, and (b) possibly be refused health and/or life insurance in the future? What does it buy me? I'm not willing to pay a small fortune now, risk ending up without insurance, for the purpose of perhaps get better treatment for Alzheimers if I should contract it.
If I grow old and lose my faculties, c'est la vie.

Re:Good. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863266)

If tens or hundreds of millions of people were being tested, it wouldn't cost a small fortune per person thanks to economies of scale. Pretend you live in a country with socialised medicine, where health insurance concerns don't come into play. It's only a bad idea from a US-centric perspective.

Why not give up on US education, that would save even more money. After all, YOU don't benefit from it.

It's like the whole population of the USA read the wikipedia article on "The tragedy of the commons", and thought to themselves - "Aha! I can use this to get ahead!".

Re:Good. (1)

g253 (855070) | about 3 years ago | (#36864116)

In most developed countries (not in the U.S.A.) what it buys you is early treatment, hopefully leading to a longer lifespan. If however I guess correctly that you have the misfortune to live in a country where being ill basically deprives you of the opportunity to get treated, and where if you wish to survive you better have amassed enough wealth to pay for it, well... that's tough :-/

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863170)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year.

Because it would be more efficient to make it mandatory, citizen. Big Pharm says you need a prescription, and you *will* consume it.
"What's wrong?"

Re:Good. (1)

frozentier (1542099) | about 3 years ago | (#36863186)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

Because if insurance companies knew for a fact you were going to get sick with something that costs a lot of money to treat, they wouldn't insure you.

Re:Good. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863260)

Not a completely horrible idea but the devil is in the details and it's not just about politics but also economics and even the effectiveness of such an approach. The economics front is pretty easy to see. To just randomly make up some numbers, if a test costs $1000 and only 0.00001% of a 300M person population (i.e. 3000) suffers from said disease that money ($300B) could be better spent elsewhere like research on a disease that effects 100,000 people.

As far as efficacy your assumption is early detection saves a large number of lives in all diseases. In some cases this is true and in some it probably isn't. If you thrown in tests with high false positives and invasive treatments they you could have areas where you do more harm than good.

Each test should be treated separately based on the statistics associated with false positives and negatives as well as the invasiveness of the treatments, economics and best use of limited resources (i.e. money) etc. In general a yearly screening would be a good idea but just a blanket "all known diseases" isn't smart.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863614)

If you are testing 300 million blood samples for various diseases, no way is one disease going to cost $1000 to diagnose. Economies of scale, big fully automated factories processing the samples. To randomly make up some more numbers - if testing one blood sample for every (worthwhile) disease costed $50 (as a result of fully-automated blood tests on a massive scale), that would be $15 billion - pocket money to the USA.

A country like Germany or Japan could eventually make something like this happen - there would certainly be a major public debate about which tests were or were not included. And who had access to what information. A yearly screening which offered more potential diagnoses every year as the required technology got cheaper and better would be how I'd like to see such a program work. Start off with 10 or 20 of the cheapest and most important tests and gradually expand. The data from all the blood samples would be extremely useful for advancing medical research, too.

"where people are afraid of their health insurers" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36863288)

Got it in one. No way I would ever take this test, simply because my health insurance company would drop me instantly if I had a positive result. I would like to know if I were developing Alzheimer's so I could alter my plans to accommodate that fact, but unless the test were available under complete anonymity, I wouldn't take it.

Re:Good. (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 3 years ago | (#36864110)

Because the cheapest cure for any disease is death.

Re:Good. (3, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 3 years ago | (#36864154)

It wouldn't work well in a nation with socialized medicine either, namely because it would be a massive waste of resources. There is a reason doctors in both countries with and without public health insurance never recommend their patients get tests for diseases they aren't at any significant risk for: it's incredibly wasteful and diverts medical experts and equipment from doing much more useful work.

For example, take breast cancer. While it's possible that men can get breast cancer, it's exceedingly rare. Let's assume that, if we can do it at scale, a mammogram for males costs 20 pounds. In the UK there are about 45,000 cases of breast cancer a year, about 1% of which are males, lets round up to 500 cases a year. There are about 25 million adult males in the United Kingdom, if we gave them a single mammogram per year at our above(overly optimistic), that would give us 500 million pounds per year to detect 500 cases(many of which may have been detected anyway). So we have a million pounds per case of breast cancer in males. Does that sound even remotely efficient? Treating breast cancer doesn't come anywhere near a million pounds, and that money can be spent much more constructively.

There are a large number of medical statisticians out there whose sole purpose is to determine which groups are at risk for which diseases. Doing wide scale testing of diseases for which very few people are at risk(and those groups can usually be identified) is just plain wasteful.

Re:Good. (2)

dhasenan (758719) | about 3 years ago | (#36864320)

Also think of false positive rates. If that test were pretty accurate and had only a 1% false positive rate, you'd suddenly be telling a quarter million men that they have breast cancer, when only 500 of them do. Your odds of having breast cancer given that you tested positive would then be one in five hundred.

The amount of wasted effort due to overmedication in this case would be enormous -- even assuming these treatments have no side effects. Even the more detailed and accurate tests might have a chance of complications.

Realistically, you'd be hurting people more than you'd help.

Re:Good. (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 3 years ago | (#36867228)

True, but to get a mammogram you have to well, get a mammogram. Very few doctors even have a mammography machine, normally you'd have to go to a smaller clinic and it'd be completely new expense all the way. Blood samples on the other hand are taken almost all the time in pretty much every doctor's office. Even if you're a relatively healthy young individual they tend to take blood samples from time to time and in the age you're likely to get Alzheimers, quite a bit more often. So if the whole blood taking is a sunk cost already, the question is how cheap can you make squeezing out a few more mL of blood to do an Alzheimer test as well. For that reason alone, anything that can be done with a blood test is much, much more likely to be widely used.

Re:Good. (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 3 years ago | (#36867400)

Doing the assays while not expensive, is not cheap either. This returns me to my original point, testing people for diseases they are not at risk for is wasteful, not to mention the issues with false positives as another poster has mentioned.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864336)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease.

There are several important reason why such an obvious and seemingly sensible idea isn't carried out.

1. Blood tests for most diseases don't exist. It's nearly as difficult to find reliable biomarkers for disease as it is to develop a therapeutic. Detecting cancer with a blood test is in many cases more difficult that treating it.

2. Tests that do exist for many diseases are too expensive to be used for routine screening.

3. Perhaps most importantly, most tests aren't good enough for screening.

For example this Alzheimer's test has an 85% true positive rate, that is, it will correctly identify people who have the disease 85% of the time. That sounds pretty good but it also has a 15% false positive rate. That means 15% of people who don't have Alheizmer's will test positive for the disease. That is terrible. Really terrible.

To take a concrete example, out of 100 million people tested 15 million will test positive for Alzheimer's falsely . And out of 100 million people, only ~5 million will of them will actually have the disease (of which 4 million will have true positive tests) which means that if you test positive you are more likely to not have the disease than have it.

One solution is not to rely on a single marker but to test multiple markers at once but this can get more expensive which limits the value of the test. This is a developing area of research that has large problems to overcome.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864422)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

This would probably work better in a country with socialised medicine, rather than one where people are afraid of their health insurers finding out about pre-existing conditions.

It's not always better to detect disease. See health psychology's discussion of pseudodisease. One study of women in their 40s who died from other causes showed many of them had breast cancer, but statistically few of them would ever have longevity or quality of life issues from their low-level cancer. If all of them were aggressively treated, the outcome in cost, longevity, and quality of life would be decidedly negative.

Re:Good. (not) (1)

enosdan (2035788) | about 3 years ago | (#36867840)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could ...

... bankrupt any government. I just added the cost of all the blood exams of the first price list found on the net and reached over 5000$. Of course that's not even close to be comprehensive, plus I wonder how much blood you'd need. Good try. Next.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36869254)

Why not have a voluntary blood test for everyone in the country, once a year. Use the blood to screen for every known disease. If done on a massive scale it could save hundreds of billions of dollars a year just by catching various terminal illnesses in their early stages.

Cost. Or more to the point, uncertainty on how to estimate the cost. Which costs more:

(1) Annual blood test for the entire population, plus the follow up cost of treating all the discovered ailments, or

(2) Cost of treating previously undiscovered ailments when they are later discovered?

Turns out that's a very hard question to answer. Even when limited to one issue, for example, is it more cost effective to vaccinate a population against HPV, or to treat a relatively small number of cases of cervical, mouth, throat, and anal cancers later on, we don't know the answer.

earlier diagnoses = health care backlist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862624)

under the republican system.

wow! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862632)

does this mean i can anonymously post a comment in slashdot.org from now on?

Re:wow! (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about 3 years ago | (#36862650)

Sorry, we all know who you are, Mr. Anonymous Coward.

The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (1)

iCEBaLM (34905) | about 3 years ago | (#36862652)

... is you keep having to take it.

Re:The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (2)

Mandelbrot-5 (471417) | about 3 years ago | (#36862668)

On the plus side, you can hide your own Easter eggs.

Re:The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#36862908)

On the plus side, you can hide your own Easter eggs.

Hell, you can BE your own Easter egg.

Re:The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (2)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#36862770)

... is you keep having to take it.

... every time you sign up with a new for profit health insurance company ...

Re:The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 3 years ago | (#36870052)

... every time you sign up with a new for profit health insurance company ...

I know, insurance rates based on actuarial risk - what is the world coming to?

Re:The problem with a blood test for alzheimers... (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | about 3 years ago | (#36863232)

The third time you show up for the same test is a positive for Alzheimers.

How the test works (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862686)

If you forget to show up for the blood draw, you test positive.

How many flase positives? (3, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 3 years ago | (#36862746)

The whole thing depends on the number of false positives. At times tests like these are heavily manipulated by the vested interests to mandate testing for the whole populations. Mainly to make money on the testing.

We accept as normal part of aging that body will perform less efficiently than when it was young. Similarly some loss of function in brain is also part of normal aging. As long as both the body and the brain dies more or less same time, it should be accepted as "normal". Advances in medication is keeping the body alive far longer than in the past. So all these brain diseases are getting prominent attention.

It is one thing to talk like this clinically in the abstract sense. But when yourself or a loved one is facing this issue rationality goes out of the window. I wish we would have the guts to treat only the early onset Alzhieimer's alone and let nature takes its course. Also should permit people to write living wills saying, "After my brain is dead, do not keep my body alive. Harvest it for organs and give it to people with functioning brains."

Re:How many flase positives? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#36862806)

The whole thing depends on the number of false positives.

From reading the fine article, about 1/5 false pos and about 1/5 false neg.

The spinal fluid test is supposed to be 100% effective although obviously dangerous. Assuming you're not an undiagnosed hemophiliac the blood test should be perfectly safe and make a decent pre-screener for the spinal test.

I'm not sure what the point is; A blood flow test was quite handy for my grandmother who found a 90% artery blockage and had surgery and some lifestyle and medication changes, which overall both dramatically lengthened and improved her life. On the other hand, watching my aunt-in-law from afar, Alzheimer's treatment seems to be little more than "keep her warm and happy, exactly like you'd do if she didn't have it".

So other than denying medical insurance coverage to people with it, what good does it do?

Re:How many flase positives? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 3 years ago | (#36862910)

If we can increase the number of pre-alzheimers sufferors who know their condition and can take part in research while they're just starting down the path, causes and preventative measures might be found sooner.

Re:How many flase positives? (1)

Boghog (910236) | about 3 years ago | (#36865238)

Currently it is extremely difficult to conduct clinical trials for Alzheimer's Disease (AD) treatments since it takes a long time to determine efficacy. An effective AD biomarker such as this blood test could provide much quicker feedback to tell whether and experimental drug is working or not. See for example: The Role of Biomarkers in Clinical Trials for Alzheimer Disease [nih.gov]

Re:How many flase positives? (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#36863868)

Unfortunately, it will not make a good screening test. Screening tests must necessarily have a vanishingly small false negative rate even at the cost of a very high false positive rate.

But your other point is spot on. Unless we can actually DO something useful about Alzheimers, there's no point in mass testing. The test is useful in cases where the patient is symptomatic because it can help distinguish between conditions that can be treated effectively and one that can't.

So causing misery is a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862768)

Let me test your blood... and ruin your remaining 10 years of being lucid. Please don't test my blood unless you can cure me.

Re:So causing misery is a good idea? (1)

frozentier (1542099) | about 3 years ago | (#36863208)

Let me test your blood... and ruin your remaining 10 years of being lucid. Please don't test my blood unless you can cure me.

That's totally true. Some people may be OK with it and strive to get the most out of life in the meantime. But others (especially those who have been around people with the disease and aren't just going by a definition they've read or heard about) could see it as a death sentence. I know it would probably drive me crazy if I knew.

Re:So causing misery is a good idea? (1)

yndrd1984 (730475) | about 3 years ago | (#36864758)

But others could see it as a death sentence. I know it would probably drive me crazy if I knew.

You're alive, you already have a death sentence.

Too good to be true (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862830)

First of in such a complex disease I would seriously doubt a simple blood test will do the trick - I give this a less than 15% chance of withstanding long term scrutiny. Second of all while it might help with long term planning think of the angst it would create in patients and their families - It would be miserable. Especially given that every therapy we have for this disease sucks.

YUo FAIL IT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862854)

Interest in having Dying' crowd - d0, or indeed what And she ran NIGGER community WASTE OF BITS AND You all is to let out? of bed in the

This is too late. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36862892)

A much earlier indication of degenerative disease can be found from nutritional factors like mineral, vitamin, essential fatty acid status. By the time gross hormonal disturbances are evident the person in in deep trouble. What I'm saying is that degenerative disease is manifestation of malnutrition.

What a waste of time.

23andMe includes a suscepibility test now (1)

smchris (464899) | about 3 years ago | (#36863240)

One of those with a "click" if you really want to know directive. They claim the genetic link is quite strong and APOE gene variants can be a predictor.

Of course I'd want to know. (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 3 years ago | (#36863362)

I want to make informed choices about preventive treatments and eventually self-termination. For that, I need to know.

Re:Of course I'd want to know. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864358)

Since the only treatments which have any real effect are those which either minimally slow the decline, or somewhat mask it until a sharp dropoff point, there isn't much reason to get tested based on that.

First ones in the US to be tested (1)

DadLeopard (1290796) | about 3 years ago | (#36863636)

I propose that the First ones in the US to be tested are the Congressmen and Senators and all elected and appointed officials of the Federal and State Governments! The way they have been acting for a while has aroused my suspicions that they are not all in their right minds!!!

Re:First ones in the US to be tested (1)

TheLink (130905) | about 3 years ago | (#36863780)

Seems like a lot of them keep getting reelected/reappointed.

So the voters etc think they're the best candidates for the job.

Re:First ones in the US to be tested (1)

black soap (2201626) | about 3 years ago | (#36871648)

I propose that they be subject to drug tests, like all other Federal employees.

Diagnosis: Going Nuts - can't afford cure (1)

Snaller (147050) | about 3 years ago | (#36863652)

Thankfully you'll forget about that.

Low cost test (1)

applematt84 (1135009) | about 3 years ago | (#36863792)

Alzheimer's Disease runs in my family ... so a low-cost test would be great. I'd at least like to have the opportunity to prepare for my geriatric future if I'm affected.

Alzheimer's- horrible, horrible disease (1)

cats-paw (34890) | about 3 years ago | (#36863940)

Latest issue of Nature focuses on Alzheimers.

It's been very difficult to make progress. However it's possible to slow it's progress and early detection is critical to that effort.

Hope this is for real and not just an advertisemnt to attract resarch dollars.

Why you shouldn't take this test (2)

Paracelcus (151056) | about 3 years ago | (#36864120)

If you fail (have the risk factor) you WILL be denied health/life insurance.
At least at rates payable by a non multimillionaire!

Re:Why you shouldn't take this test (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36868620)

In what fascist 3rd world country would that be the case? Seriously...!

Oh... wait!
I'm sorry... :/
(But please move somewhere else. Seriously!)

Test Side Effects (1)

jasnw (1913892) | about 3 years ago | (#36864148)

Both my father and his father died at the end of a long fight with Alzheimer's, and it's likely that I and my brother have the genetic markers that have been tied to the disease (or whatever it is). We have had long discussions about taking the various "find out if you have Alzheimer's genes" for a long time, and the two bottom lines are: (1) there is nothing medical science can do for you if you do have the genetic markers other than use you for a lab rat, and (2) this sets you up for potentially-serious problems with the medical insurance mafia. Current drugs and treatments are poor, at best, and nearly all aim at stalling the inevitable rather than curing or even stopping the disease. Until there is enough gain to overcome the potential loss in being identified as a "poor risk" for insurance neither my brother nor I will get any Alzhiemer's tests. We will plan our lives to include the possiblity that this may be in our future, and watch for real developments and not false hopes.

not a test, and not even correct at diagnosis (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | about 3 years ago | (#36864282)

1) academic work on some hideously complex test (I work in this field, nine proteins is almost unprecedented for a mass screen) is
NOT
a test. It is like some academic at IBM or intel announcing they have 10x faster memory in the lab; how many of those get to production ?
maybe, maybe, in 2 years, this will be a test
2) and, the data show that it doesn't work
accordng to the article, theytested their test on people whoose status was already known.
do I really have to remind slashdotters about grade school statistics and probability, and how working on something with a known value is not the same as working on something with an unknown value ?
its kinda wierd, this biotech stuff on /. is always at the edge of gee whiz; I assume cause most /.ers, while versed inthe arcana of the tcip stack, or linux kernel, don't know anything about bio science, so they can't distinguish rediculous pr hype from serious stuff.

Re:not a test, and not even correct at diagnosis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36866098)

Very true. But this is not hype, it is very interesting
Result announced at a conference. I suspect that
The researcher is surprised at the outside coverage this is getting

Diagnostic vs. Prognostic tests (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864286)

Yeah, but this is a diagnostic test developed on a relatively small cohort of subjects (only a few hundred). The small sample size also leads me to suspect that the testing and validation sets are the same, which often (read: always) leads to overoptimistic performance of predictors (biased). In addition, designing a useful prognostic test is a lot harder than designing a diagnostic test. This will require a larger cohort (in thousands of subjects, ideally observed over a period of time), and will still have poorer performance than this. So let's not get too excited yet.

RE: Testing for Alzheimer's (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36864568)

Why not start earlier? Testing for blood levels of DDT, lead and mercury earlier in life, before they begin breaking things down, leaving protein and other radicals and instigating hormonal and other response reactions?

We would have to admit the precursors precursors, but that is going to come about sometime, anyway.

In fact, I suspect that if the current depression continues we'll have hungry lawyers opening the closets and forcing the issue, as with asbestos, dioxin and other modern regents already recognized to be inducing the next nexus in our and our planet's evolution.

Question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36865562)

How would you tell the difference between an Alzheimer's sufferer and any other Australian?

Easy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36866868)

An Aussie with Alzheimer's will forget to carry a can of Fosters, doesn't remember where Crocodile Dundee lives or suddenly loses interest in fucking sheep.

If only we had this in 1984 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36865734)

Maybe we wouldn't still be drowning in the pool created by Reagan's trickle-down urine stream.

Re:If only we had this in 1984 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36866906)

You're looking at it all wrong. Reagan did such a good job even with his Alzheimers because everyone else in DC was too fucking incompetent. See, that's the rub right there. This "hick" from California was supposed to be a clown. A sideshow Bob. Instead, he proved how full of shit those communists were. Speaking of the many politicians in office at the time of course.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36866264)

I have Alzheimers, but at least I don't have Alzheimers.

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