Alzheimer's Test in the News

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Over the last two days, many news outlets have reported this story about a "new Alzheimer's test". It is based on analysis of a small sample of skin cells and holds promise for accurately detecting Alzheimer's disease in its early stages. For perspective, I offer the following comments.

This is a bio-marker test. A bio-marker, as defined by researchers at Stanford University is "a specific biological trait, such as the level of a certain molecule in the body, that can be measured to indicate the progression of a disease or condition". In this instance, the test measures the presence of a phosphorous binding enzyme which is theorized to contribute to the Alzheimer's disease process.

Detection vs. Diagnosis
Despite the characterization in many headlines I have seen, this will be a test for "diagnosing" Alzheimer's disease, not for "detecting" it. This means that once a patient is deemed to have a medical condition interfering with normal cognition, a physician will need to consider the possible causes and diagnose the correct one. Since we currently diagnose Alzheimer's disease partially by ruling out other causes, this new test might be an inexpensive, non-invasive, and hopefully accurate means for arriving more directly at a diagnosis of AD.

With a projected cost of several hundred dollars per test, this approach could add certainty while reducing time in the diagnostic process. The test is being co-developed by the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute and Inverness Medical Innovations Inc. with a possible commercial product available within 18 months.

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