Do we really want to predict
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By Kate Hilpern/Daily Express: Dementia
.A quick eye test can recognise Alzheimer’s disease up to 20 years
before symptoms develop. Drops are applied to the eye and an image is taken
with an infrared camera.
This highlights nerve cell damage in the retina correlating to nerve cell
damage in the brain.“In the future a visit to an optician to check on your
eyesight could also be a check on the state of your brain,” says Professor
Francesca Cordeiro, author of the study at University College London. Early
diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is critical, she says, to stop and reverse the cell
death before it’s too late.
A blood test is also being developed which will predict Alzheimer’s up to a
decade before symptoms appear.
Scientists are developing a DNA test that can tell a woman as young as
18 how many eggs she has left and give warning signs of declining fertility.
The test would be particularly useful for the 10 per cent of women who
suffer from “early ovarian ageing” which sees fertility decline much earlier
than most, often in their 20s. British fertility doctors have already
developed a blood test that measures hormone levels to estimate a woman’s
Over-the-counter fertility tests are also available, although some medics
believe they can give false reassurance. “If the fallopian tubes are blocked
or the partner doesn’t have fabulous sperm, it may give false hope,” says
A test to detect autism in unborn babies may soon become available.The
test, which is being developed by Cambridge University’s autism research
centre, is controversial because autism is a spectrum disorder and doesn’t
just include children who are unable to communicate and live in
Indeed, the spectrum famously includes mathematical and musical geniuses.
“Screening to identify autism at an early stage has the potential to
radically improve the quality of life if the right education, environment
and support can be put in place as soon as possible,” says Amanda Batten of
the National Autistic Society. “However, it is crucial that early screening
or testing for autism does not lead to increased stigmatising or
With the ability to detect eye disorders ranging from glaucoma to
age-related macular degeneration (AMD) years ahead of conventional high
street optometry, the OCT (optical coherence tomography) test is a major
breakthrough. Six retinal layers are viewed simultaneously as the OCT takes
53,000 scans per second and the resulting images show even the tiniest
AMD affects 250,000 people in Britain and leaves one in 10 sufferers blind.
Early treatment of wet AMD can slow down or even prevent sight loss. OCT,
which is described as working like an MRI scan of the eye, is already used
in hospitals and is being offered by some opticians.
A test measuring temperature changes in the fingertips may be able to
detect heart disease.It works by establishing whether the internal lining of
blood vessels is being damaged by a build-up of fatty deposits. Some
scientists believe it could eventually replace angiograms.“Predicting heart
disease is not as simple as taking a blood test or measuring your
waistline,” says Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse for the British Heart
Foundation. “Your age, sex, height and weight, how physically active you are
and if you have diabetes can all help tell if you are at risk.”
A mouthwash test for breast cancer? In 2007, there was great
anticipation as scientists developed a test that could predict a woman’s
risk of breast cancer years before the disease set in by collecting DNA from
the lining of the cheeks. Alas, it did not get final approval. Now
scientists have developed a blood test that can pick up breast cancer before
it is detected by standard screening methods. The test, is already available
privately. “This is the most significant development in the detection of
early breast cancer in the past decade,” says Dr James MacKay, genetic
oncologist at the London Breast Clinic. “Regular screening still misses
One-stop health check
It’s not for the faint-hearted but the “Biophysical 250” claims to be
the most accurate predictor of your chances of developing conditions
including kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, rheumatoid
arthritis, pneumonia and cancer. A sample of your blood is sent to The US
and analysed for 250 biomarkers.
When the test comes back each indicator is marked either red (urgent
attention required), yellow (caution and preventative action needed) or
green (low risk). However, Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal
College of GPs, calls it unethical and cruel. “If these tests are done in
isolation they can indicate you are very likely to get prostate cancer even
though it might never actually progress,” he says.
Researchers from Boston University in the US claim to have identified
150 pieces of DNA that are common to people who have lived long lives.The
experts claim it is possible to use these to predict with 77 per cent
accuracy who is most likely to live beyond 100, regardless of lifestyle. It
is considered a breakthrough in understanding the role of genes in
determining human lifespan.