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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 ovarian reserve.

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 Stuart Lavery.

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 institutions.

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 discrimination.”

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 abnormalities.

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.

Heart disease
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.”

Breast cancer
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 cancers.”

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.

Long life
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.


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