Norwegian researchers, in conjuction with colleagues in California, have developed new genetic testing that can provide answers as to when a person develops Alzheimer’s Disease. Its use raises ethical questions, though, and not everyone wants to know.
Professor Ole A Andreassen at the University of Oslo has been part of the team developing the test. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) over the weekend that nearly everyone develops some form of dementia or the particularly dreaded Alzheimer’s if they get old enough. He also stressed that it will take time before the testing procedure will be available in Norway.
‘Special rules’ in Norway
“We have special rules for use of such testing here in Norway,” Andreassen told NRK. “Everything must be validated and approved, so there’s still a lot of work ahead.”
The new test is based on research showing that special types of genes determine when the illness starts to develop. He and fellow researchers in the US have studied the genes of more than 70,000 people, both those believed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s and elderly people who have not developed any form of dementia.
The researchers thus found the genes that spur development of Alzheimer’s, which itself develops over a period of 20 years. The test can quite specifically reveal when the illness will break out within the 20-year period.
There are still no drugs to prevent Alzheimer’s, but the testing can help doctors start treatment as early as possible, increasing chances of finding a means of lessening its impact that especially affects memory and orientation.
‘Can be important’
The testing can also be important for those with a lot of dementia and suspected Alzheimer’s Disease in their families, “so that they can better plan for their own years ahead and alter their lifestyles in a way that may delay onset,” Andreassen said. He thinks the test can also be important for society in general, not least regarding formation of eldercare policies at at time of increases in the numbers of elderly.
The professor acknowledged that not everyone wants to know whether they’re likely to become seriously ill, and NRK interviewed Norwegians who said they prefer to be “blissfully ignorant.” Andreassen said he was likely to take the test himself, though, to be better prepared for the future while still capable of making plans.
Lisbet Rugtvedt, secretary general of the national public health association Folkehelsa, said she thinks the new test can spur development of more effective drugs to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. The testing results from long-term cooperation between Norment (the Norwegian center for research on mental illnesses) at the Unversity of Oslo, and the Center for Translational Imaging and Precision Medicine at the Universitiy of California in San Diego.