Frightening in its destruction, Alzheimer's disease casts a long and ominous shadow. To date, we are unable to predict who will be struck down or when. We wonder, who stands at greatest risk for this disease? Is it you? Is it me? One of our loved ones?
The subject of testing is a delicate one. Reasonable people line up on both sides of the issue. According to one view, currently existing tests are incapable of giving results that are 100% accurate. The risk of people receiving erroneous results would actually leave them no better off, or in a worse state of affairs, than they were before they were tested.
On the other hand, if it is possible to achieve really accurate results, such testing would be a valuable tool to have. Researchers are doing their best to bring this about.
This would be a great improvement over the present situation, where Alzheimer's disease can only be diagnosed by an autopsy. As things are, doctors can only make their diagnosis through cognitive and neurological tests and a brain scan. But it is impossible to make a definite diagnosis this way.
At Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute (BRNI) in Morgantown, WV, preliminary clinical trials of a skin test look promising. The hope is that this test will be able to accurately determine who has Alzheimer's disease.
Daniel Alkon is the originator of this new test. He is also the scientific director of BRNI and Alkon's Institute, at West Virginia University. BRNI is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. BRNI has a contract with Inverness Medical innovations Inc. of Waltham, Mass. which will fund test development for the next few years.
The key for this test is a group of enzymes called Protein Kinase C, or PKC (enzymes that help control the function of other proteins) which deals with storage of long-term memory. A set of these enzymes malfunction in Alzheimer's in brain and skin cells.
A small sample of a patient's skin cells are taken and shipped to BRNI. The cells are grown in a dish and scientists then add a molecule called bradykinin, which will dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure.