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New Blood Test Can Detect Alzheimers 102

Posted by timothy
from the so-you-can-remain-nerdy dept.
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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New Blood Test Can Detect Alzheimers

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  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 24, 2011 @10:40AM (#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.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Sunday July 24, 2011 @10:59AM (#36862746) Journal
    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:Good. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mickwd (196449) on Sunday July 24, 2011 @01:35PM (#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.

  • by sjames (1099) on Sunday July 24, 2011 @02:08PM (#36863868) Homepage

    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.

  • Re:Good. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday July 24, 2011 @02:53PM (#36864154) Homepage Journal
    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.

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