Discovery doubles genetic clues to Alzheimer's
April 3rd, 2011
04:29 PM ET

Discovery doubles genetic clues to Alzheimer's

Two new reports in Nature Genetics detail the discovery of five new pathways for detecting Alzheimer's disease, the memory-stealing brain illness that is especially prevalent among the elderly.

Previous research had identified five genes linked to Alzheimer's disease, or AD. The combined efforts of an international consortium of researchers has raised those known genetic markers to 10.

"We've really doubled the number of clues we have about late-onset AD. We have a lot left to do to complete the story of AD genetics, but this is a big step," said Professor Gerard D. Schellenberg of the University of Pennsylvania, lead researcher for one of the studies.

"Almost as important as the genes discovered is the fact that a large number of investigators are working together to solve the genetics of AD," Schellenberg said. "We just started an international consortium, IGAP (International Genomics of Alzheimer's Project), so all the groups that produced both papers are now collaborating."  IGAP includes scientists from four university research groups and creates a shared database that includes genetic information for more than 40,000 patients.

"Of course, I am a bit biased, but I think this is a big deal," Schelleberg said.

While the new genetic findings are far from being a cure for Alzheimer's, Dr. Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association praised the findings of both studies, noting their strong methods.

"In the genetics world we've had a history of small samples," Thies said. "The fact that we've confirmed some genes in a large group means that it's real, not a statistical anomaly." The IGAP will continue to share genetic findings, he said, with the hopes  their research findings will offer keys to unlocking information about all of the routes that Alzheimer's takes in the body. "The more pathways that we can explore will allow us to make progress for preventing and treating AD eventually."

Schellenberg said research is at a "critical point" in Alzheimer's treatment.

"Much attention has been focused on therapies that target A-beta production," better known as brain deposits that cause plaques and tangles, gumming up the brain's machinery, he said. But the new genetic findings look at new pathways that merit further study, including one that confirms a previous theory that focuses on the metabolism of cholesterol. Another important theme in the new research is that  "innate immunity" is important in relation to disease susceptibility. That's the theory that  Alzheimer's could be part of the body attacking itself because it perceives a threat to its protective immune system.

"This is a really important idea that needs to be followed up," he said.

5.2 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association, which estimates that by 2050, as many as 16 million Americans will have the disease.

soundoff (115 Responses)
  1. Laura

    I hope that they keep working on this. Last time I went to my Grandmother's house, she screamed and thought we were going to rob her because she didn't remember us. She then forgot she let her dog out and it stayed outside for around 30 hours.

    April 7, 2011 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. dorothy mccoy

    i agree with some of these letter,my mom has early stage of dimensa . she think all her clothes & furniture is my dead friend /also some nights she will call me 12 times in a row ,talking about me real bad . i am her caregiver ,the next morning she do not remember anything , she will say when i do this just ignore her but that my mom .i am asking the prays of anyone going throug this taking care of ther love.its not easy

    April 8, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sweet Pea

    My dear mother was diagnosed with dimentia/early onset AD recently. It is hard for her & the family to see such a good person & loving caring mother have to face such callenges & changes. We have to get our "political powers" to understand how important it is for them to use thier "political powers" to help more people with AD & their families too afford the special care needed to better take care of our loved ones at home. We all know nursing homes are not the answere & quite frankly are not prepared or funded enough to handle this either. The workers at many of these nursing homes are not trained properly and or screened properly & that leads to a bad outcome for all. More needs to be done to protect the safety & sanity of our loved ones respectfully.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Betty

    Jayne, I hate to tell you this, but your comments reveal that you have early stage Alzheimer's. I hope the rapture will take you before you have to suffer this debilitating condition. God Bless!

    July 28, 2011 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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