The New Hot Topic of Overlapping Diseases

The New Hot Topic of Overlapping Diseases
Sometimes in science, an idea hangs loosely in the background for many years because researchers don’t know how to make proper sense of it. Then there is a breakthrough and suddenly the hypothesis is being talked about researchers. This is the hot new topic - the issue of overlap in the major neurodegenerative diseases as presented at the 9th International Conference for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in Prague in March 1009. Here is the concept: there are the big age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Then there are overlapping diseases that fall into what is called the gray area or in other words, mixed diseases. They follow a different path from “pure” diseases. Researches find that mixed diseases are worse.

In previous conferences even though scientists were meeting to share information about Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, each disease group met separately – all these researchers under one roof, yet in different rooms. However, these mixed diseases have brought everyone to the same table. In particular, diseases such as frontotemporal dementias (as opposed to the hippocampal shrinkage of Alzheimer’s) are drawing intense interest as biomarker development branches out beyond amyloid-â and tau. Individual cases can now be evaluated as falling on a continuum, rather than fitting into a neat, specific box that a doctor checks off. This means that the view of the diagnosing doctor will change to deal with mixed cases. In the future a diagnosis can identify the offending proteins that combine to cause a person's “individual” disease.

James Galvin of Washington University, St. Louis asserts that “In time, we will shift away from relying on clinical categorization to make diagnoses.” “We will make protein diagnoses. The way to get there is to understand underlying pathways and to develop a range of biomarkers.”
There is a need for protein markers to sort out the variety of these diseases. For example, scientists are realizing that what might seem like one disease actually has multiple causes. New studies of Parkinson disease patients are noticing the gene for Gaucher disease as well as a variant of the protein tau. In another instance a disease mutation in the gene progranulin could show up as frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s, or even Alzheimer’s in members of the same family.

Don’t worry about this new complex finding. It will lead to proper treatment through greater pooling of scientific resources. Alzheimer’s treatment is already focusing on fusion therapies. This makes another case to pursue this exciting new direction.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show

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