Sunday, April 24, 2011

Predicting the Outcome

One of my favorite shows, The Mentalist, is centered on a man with an extraordinary ability to predict human behavior. In his job as a consultant, Patrick Jayne the mentalist, always downplays his extraordinary ability as being based on observation. Jayne denies that he has any psychic abilities and maintains they do not exist in the real world. His uncanny abilities often leave others shaking their heads and wondering how he really does it.

A lot of people, in general, and psychics in particular claim to have the inside track on predictions. Most psychic predictions are so general that many events can be interpreted as fulfilling the prophecy.

One of my favorite psychic predictions involved Dolly Parton. The prediction was that she would fall in love with a 300-pound professional wrestler, write a song called “Headlock on My Heart,” and feature her sweetheart in a music video. This is a detailed and specific prediction that set the psychic up for failure. Well, Dolly Parton has a sense of humor and when she read this wild prediction, she wrote the song and asked Hulk Hogan to star in the video—complete with fake wedding between Dolly and “Starlight Starbright.”

Most of us listen to predictions on a daily basis. Predictions may be minor, but we may plan our wardrobe based on the weather forecast, how far we are willing to travel on vacation based on the price of gasoline, whether to change our retirement fund investments based on the stock market, or whether we want to watch reality TV if our favorite is voted off.

Most important predictions concern our health. Through no fault of our own, we may be susceptible to certain diseases based on our genetic makeup. Science has made it possible to predict accurately a person’s health outcome of certain diseases through genetic testing.

The APOE gene has long been connected to Alzheimer’s. Which version you have of the APOE gene can mean that you are twenty times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s (2 copies of APOE-4) or less likely to develop Alzheimer’s (2 copies of APOE-2). Of course, any person may have any combination of APOE genes and most people do not know their genetic makeup and cannot predict whether they are more likely, or less likely, to develop Alzheimer’s. The APOE gene is one of the genes that breaks down plaques.

The hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are two proteins—amyloid beta (causes plaques ) and tau (which causes tangles). Science is beginning to come together to get to the cause of the plaques and tangles.

• Chris Dobson, Cambridge University, discovered that slight genetic adjustments to amyloid beta protein could make it more soluble. Insoluble proteins cause plaques.
• Researchers at Brown University have found that the cell process works in diseased brains but is overwhelmed by misfolded amyloid beta proteins.
• Dr. Jeffrey Kelly, Scripps Research Institute, announced the discovery of several genetic mutations that make people more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. These genes are more commonly associated with cholesterol metabolism and inflammation.

As the research comes together, the University of California announced a more accurate method of using MRIs and a neuropsychological assessment to predict whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s. The goal of the research is develop a method to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in an early stage before symptoms appear.

When we develop a disease, the crucial prediction is the prognosis. Without a breakthrough, predicting the outcome of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is unfortunately accurate.

Early detection makes a difference in a hopeful outcome for most diseases. With scientific breakthroughs from many different sources, Alzheimer’s may someday be a disease where early detection means successful treatment.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher April 2011

Ridley, Matt, Connecting the Pieces of the Alzheimer’s Puzzle. April 2011.
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