Harvard Health Publications

Alzheimer’s study on biomarkers generates debate

Posted By Ann MacDonald On August 17, 2010

A study about a three-protein signature that might help identify people with Alzheimer’s,  published in the August issue of the Archives of Neurology, has generated quite a bit of discussion in the blogosphere.  I thought readers might want to follow the discussion, so I’ve shared some links to representative posts. (We will be covering the topic of Alzheimer’s biomarkers in our November 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.)

It all started when investigators from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a collaborative effort of 57 centers in the United States and Canada, reported that they had identified a spinal fluid biomarker that can not only identify people with Alzheimer’s disease, but also those with mild cognitive impairment (often but not always a precursor to dementia) who are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s in the future.

An overly enthusiastic report in the New York Times generated a series of criticisms that still-preliminary research was being over-sold as a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in healthy people. Among those weighing in were Gary Schwitzer and other reviewers at HealthNewsReview.org, a project of the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, who criticized news coverage in the NYT and elsewhere.

More recently, Dr. George Lundberg, editor-at-large at MedPage Today, weighed in. As he put it, “PUHLEASE do not unleash such diagnostic tests for clinical use on the public until we have a way to intervene to positively change prognosis or course of the disease.”

In an editorial that accompanied the original study, Dr. A. Zara Herskovits, a clinical fellow in pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. John Growdon, director of the Memory and Movement Disorders Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, praised the research but also offer detailed cautions about its clinical applicability at this time.  That’s likely the angle we’ll take in our story.

Related Information: Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss

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