SPINAL TAP MAY BE EARLY PREDICTOR OF ALZHEIMER’S

    from CNN transcript, January 3, 2012   Scientists are searching for clues to help determine if people with symptoms of mild dementia are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies in 2009 and 2010 suggested an association between biomarkers found in cerebrospinal fluid (fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain as a protective cushion) and the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The association was confirmed in a recent and more comprehensive study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.  In the longest clinical follow-up ever, 137 volunteers with mild cognitive impairment were tracked from four to 12 years, with a median of 9.2 years.

Analysis of the accumulated data showed the biomarkers could predict with 90% accuracy who among the study group would develop Alzheimer’s.

The biomarkers researchers focused on were two proteins, beta-amyloid and tau.

A decrease in beta-amyloid in spinal fluid causes a toxic buildup of that protein the brain, which in turn causes the formation of the plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The protein tau is associated with the creation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.

Finding an early predictive process provides vital information for scientists in search of treatments for the fatal brain disease.  According to Adam Brickman, assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University School of Medicine, current thinking is that interventions are most effective when given to a patient as early as possible.

The efforts of clinical trials will be better focused if patients are know to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  A significant number of patients with mild cognitive impairment do not develop Alzheimer’s and are not good candidates for the trials.

When studies like this get published, Brickman says he and other doctors are deluged with phone calls from aging adults interested in getting a spinal tap to assess their risks of the disease.  But it’s too early to use the test results as a diagnostic tool in clinical settings.

“What I tell people is: If they’re worried about their thinking abilities, that they should make an appointment with a neuropsychology (sic) or a neurologist to get an evaluation,” Brickman continues.  “The way we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is by evaluating the behavior and the risk factor medical profile, not by looking at biological markers at this point.”

My Take on the press release:  First, I found it particularly difficult to organize the information in an understandable sequence and to translate the medicalese into English.

Second, the release doesn’t say where the study was done or by whom; it only says Brickman wasn’t involved.  Knowing where studies take place and where the funding comes from is critical to the validity of a study’s conclusions.  Remember the research and subsequent campaign to drink 8 glasses of water a day?  That was sponsored by the American Bottled Water Association.  Nutritionists say any liquid (except alcohol) contributes to our daily quota, as do fruits and vegetables, which are 90%+ water.

Had the Alzheimer’s article not mentioned the journal the study was published in, I wouldn’t have blogged it at all.

Third, the release offers no explanation as to why the test results can’t be used as a diagnosing tool.  I googled the test and was delighted to find a lot of references to it.  Alas.  They were all, word for word, the same copy I’d worked from.

Fourth, there were significant errata in the release.  I marked one in the blog with (sic).  At times the spelling of Brickman became “Brinkman.”  A little too much whimsy for my taste.

Still, I felt the main thrust of the article was worth passing on to you for your own evaluation.

And by the way, if you’re interested in finding a trial for yourself or for someone you know, you can check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s system known as TrialMatch at  http://www.alz.org/alzwa/documents/TrialMatch_Fact_Sheet.pd

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