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Alzheimer’s disease: researcher behind “new test” paper tried to silence critics

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3444 (Published 08 August 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3444
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. London

A researcher who made headlines with a paper that claimed to have found a genetic test to measure ageing and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease tried to suppress scientific discussion about his data by threatening legal action.

Jamie Timmons and colleagues published their research in Genome Biology,1 with widespread pick-up in UK newspapers. The story was also listed by the BBC among its 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2015.

The researchers claimed that they had identified a 150 gene expression signature in blood for healthy ageing, which was also “diagnostic for” Alzheimer’s disease. The claim seemed surprising to some others in the field.

The data presented on healthy ageing were based on muscle samples from 108 men, all aged around 70. But David Melzer, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Exeter, said that the blood sample results reported showed limited ability to distinguish Alzheimer’s from healthy control participants and failed to identify mild cognitive impairment samples correctly.

Melzer and his group were part of an international collaboration on gene expression and ageing that studied 15 000 participants from 14 cohorts. That study found 1497 genes in blood associated with age,2 but only 10 overlapped with the 150 gene signature in Timmons’s paper.

Melzer and colleagues posted results for …

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