New York Times (August 4, 2010): Finding Skeptics on Alzheimer's Push, Advocates Make Case

Publication Date: 
Wed, 08/04/2010

Will Alzheimer's disease, a terrible degenerative brain disease with no treatments and no clear guidelines for diagnosis before its end stages, become like heart disease? Will there be early markers of risk, analogous to high cholesterol levels, that will predict who is likely to get it? And will there be drugs that actually prevent it?

That is the hope behind new diagnostic guidelines being proposed by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association.

In July, when the groups first announced their proposed guidelines, they were met with some skepticism and anger. Why suggest ways of diagnosing the disease before a person even had symptoms? There is nothing now that can prevent Alzheimer’s. Why tell people they are doomed?

And are those early diagnosis guidelines just a sop to pharmaceutical companies so they can start marketing expensive, and perhaps not very effective, new drugs?

So the Alzheimer’s Association, with participation from the National Institute on Aging, held a conference call on Wednesday to clarify their position.

In particular, they wanted to explain why they advocated using so-called biomarkers, like scans for amyloid plaque in the brain, a unique feature of Alzheimer’s, and tests of cerebrospinal fluid for amyloid and another protein, tau, which also builds up in the brain and is connected to the disease.