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U of R's role in predicting Alzheimer's

Updated: Monday, April 7 2014, 11:09 AM EDT

Rochester, N.Y. – In the 1980s, Jane Kitchen’s mother began forgetting things.

“When we would go along the canal and see it full she would say, ‘My that hotel is full,” said Kitchen, “Well the word was wrong, but the intent was quite right, because it had been raining and the canal was almost up to the banks. Then another day she said, ‘What’s a sandwich? Somebody asked me to bring a sandwich to play to bridge, what’s a sandwich?’ So there were a number of specific things like that that clicked in.”

Kitchen’s son Donald was in his early teens at the time.

He remembers watching his grandmother; he endearingly called “Gamo,” change.

“She never lost her sweetness and her pleasant disposition and her willingness to be friendly and be open and be interested in you, it's just she little by little she lost all of her memory and the contents,” recalled Donald Kitchen. “You could have lunch with her and it would be very pleasant and little by little you’d realized she was kind of faking it the whole time.”

Jane Kitchen saw her mother almost daily and became very involved in the early Alzheimer’s Association in Rochester.

“I don’t think we can always tell what we’re going to go through, but if there are ways and means of dealing with it, it would be wonderful,” said Kitchen.

Kitchen’s life experience and knowledge of the disease lead her to participate in the University of Rochester and Georgetown University’s Alzheimer’s study.

She was one of 525 participants, many from Rochester, others from Southern California. Each year, for five years, the participants would give blood and take cognitive tests.

Results of the study that were published in the journal “Nature Medicine” revealed researchers developed a test that looked at levels of ten fats in the blood and could predict the risk of the disease coming on, in the next five years. It was 90% accurate. 

“We were absolutely thrilled,” said Mark Mapstone, one of the researchers and Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester. “Frankly, we were shocked when we saw the results we had to run the analysis again a second time just to make sure.”

According to Mapstone, this blood test will be initially used for clinical trials.

“We have to be cautious about this,” said Mapstone. “We have to externally validate this, once that’s done I’ll be much more robustly enthusiastic, but right now I think we have to be a little bit cautious about this as a general screening tool for patients to come into clinics. As a research tool I think it’s very valuable and I think we’re going to get a lot of use out of this. I think it’s going to be very helpful.”

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and according to Mapstone, if no prevention, treatment or cure is found by 2050 that number will jump to over 13 million.

“We really are at a standstill with diagnosis and specifically treatment for the disease,” said Mapstone. “There’s been many failures of drugs over the past decade or two where pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to develop new drugs because so many have failed, so the push is to develop drugs that will affect the disease earlier in the age of the disease so there’s a fighting chance.”

That’s where this blood test will help, giving clinical trials better data about the patients.

“We anticipate that this particular test, method will be used in clinical trials shortly within the next couple of years if all goes well we hope to have trials in the next year or so using this test to screen for patients to get into the trial,” said Mapstone. “Ultimately, we would like to have commercialized so it can be used in primary practices we anticipate that’s probably a longer road and I would guess we’re talking in the order of about five years.”

They’re results participants like Jack Hayward, were encouraged to hear.

“It would be wonderful to be a part of something that actually was going to prevent people from having to go through, the families and the individuals, the pain and anguish of whether it’s Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia,” said Hayward, “Alzheimer’s, being the most common, and something such as my wife had Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, which a mouthful they call it PSP for short, terrible to see her go through that.”

It gives families like the Kitchen’s hope that someday Alzheimer’s may not be a losing battle.

“My hope for the future is that this is a disease that will yield its secrets as cancer has, as other intransient diseases have and that we can find treatments so that it will not take the toll today that it has in years past,” said Donald Kitchen.

U of R's role in predicting Alzheimer's


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