Would You Want to Know If You're at Risk for Alzheimer’s?
Would You Want to Know If You’ll Get Alzheimer’s?
Meryl Comer: We’re in a world of genomics. James Watson who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA had his genome mapped and was only the second to have done it. The cost has come down considerably. I think it was a million dollars to have it done when he had it done. But he told Big Think that the one and only thing he didn’t want to know was his risk for Alzheimer’s. Now do you think he made the right choice?
Dr. Troncoso: I think the team might have not found anything. The question is do you want to know whether you are high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. I think it is a very personal decision. Some people may not want to do it. Others who are very practical for planning reasons may want to do it, but with the understanding that unless it is in one of these families, the 3%, you know. In the rest of the population there is not a single marker that can tell you for sure they will have Alzheimer’s disease, even the most important one APOE you can have APOE4 alleles and you can still escape the disease. So it may be important for some people. They want to plan their life, yeah, why not? But if you don’t want to do it I won’t blame you.
Meryl Comer: In terms of full disclosure about whether or not you want to know if you can’t treat for a disease like Alzheimer’s: I had the test. I wanted to know for life planning. Did you want to know? Do you know?
Dr. Guarente: No, my feeling is I would like to know about risk for any disease that can be treated, but for a disease for which there is really no treatment I would rather not know.
Dr. Arancio: I don’t know and I don’t think it is important, partially for the same reason that he has said. And the second thing he has said, what if I find out before I have two copies of APOE4? I also know that doesn’t mean that I have developed necessarily disease and what if I know that I am the good apple and not the [...] or the [...]? It does not mean that I have not developed the disease.
Dr. Troncoso: I haven’t had a full genetic screening, but I do know my APOE, just at serendipity we needed blood when we started doing it in the lab. I gave a sample and that is what I know and it’s okay, but I don’t have you know. I didn’t do it because I wanted to know whether I would get Alzheimer’s disease. Even if I knew that I have the E4 allele, that doesn’t mean high risk, but there is no certainty.
Meryl Comer: Dr. Gandy?
Dr. Gandy: I don’t know. I tend to plan for the worst anyway, so planning I think I'm going to cover anyway. I think the issue is whether one is ready to deal with that information psychologically, and I've never felt that I really wanted to have that thing sort of hanging around.
Dr. Troncoso: There is one more twist to this. It has to do with your children, so the question is if for some reason you’re going to have a child and you may want to know whether you have a gene that will increase the risk in them. That would be the other situation which I would think about it.
Recorded on October 29, 2010
Genetic testing is advancing rapidly, and we can now find out our risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. But without a cure or treatment available, what’s the point?
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Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case
- The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
- Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
- A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict
The death of Old Yugoslavia
Image: public domain
United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.
Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.
The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.
After the wars
Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.
The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.
So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.
Kosovo divides the world
Image: public domain
In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).
The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).
The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.
Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.
Land for peace?
Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.
In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.
The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.
The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.
If others can do it...
Image: Ruland Kolen
Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.
Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.
Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.
In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.
The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.
- Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
- The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
- Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
- Facebook and Google began as companies with supposedly noble purposes.
- Creating a more connected world and indexing the world's information: what could be better than that?
- But pressure to return value to shareholders came at the expense of their own users.
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