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Alzheimer’s Disease and the Evolution of a Postgenomic Science

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JournalNew Genetics and Society
DateE-pub ahead of print - 3 Oct 2019
DatePublished (current) - 3 Nov 2019
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)1-13
Early online date3/10/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Alzheimer’s disease has been a reference point for the promise and potential of genetic and genomic science from 1980s molecular biology through the sequencing of the human genome to ongoing efforts to identify new disease-associated loci and polygenic risk scores. Alzheimer’s disease research speaks to the potential of biome- dicine to address fundamental problems of human existence, such as ageing and loss of personhood. Yet the relationship between “bench and bedside” has been rocky.
A decade after one of the headline findings of Alzheimer’s disease genetics, the identification of the ApoE e4 risk allele, Lock and colleagues argued that “no find- ings that derive from knowledge about the genetics of [Alzheimer’s disease] have as yet resulted in clear advances of any kind in the prevention or treatment of the disease” (Lock, Lloyd, and Prest 2006, 130). In subsequent years, new therapies, disease models and technologies have repeatedly run aground on the challenges presented by a complex, late-onset condition, while their pursuit prompts concern that attention is being deflected from care and social support in the context of austerity and diminishing collective responses to care in later life.

Alzheimer’s disease research, as with other areas of postgenomic science, con- tinues to “promise big” (Richardson and Stevens 2015, 239). However, encounters between Alzheimer’s, genetics and postgenomic biomedicine over the last decades have resulted in consequential changes in how knowledge about the condition is generated, how the relationship between dementia and ageing is understood and how diagnosis and care are conceptualized and practice.

The papers in this special issue chart key dimensions of this changing landscape of Alzheimer’s disease, including the problematic relationship between the bench and the bedside in the contemporary moment, and explore the various individual, scientific and societal futures that each dimension implies. They build on papers and conversations at a workshop at the Brocher Foundation in 2016 on “The rede- finition of Alzheimer’s disease and its social and ethical consequences.”

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