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Alzheimer’s Genes Found Cure Still Far Away

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, September 08, 2009 12:16 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Brain Health, Harvard, Gene Research

More genes linked to Alzheimer's disease are found, but some researchers are looking into other areas for the cause/cure.

Three New Genes Found 


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / close up render of neuron brain cell / author: Henrik5000

Three new genetic variations have been found to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Two studies have found the genes, Clusterin, PICALM, and CR1 that all appear to increase the risk of Alzheimer, the brain-robbing disease.

Researcher Julie Williams, a professor of Neuropsychological Genetics at Britain’s Cardiff University, said the findings were the most significant discovery in the field of genetics in the last 15 years.

That’s when APOE4 was found to be linked to the mind-robbing disease.

Williams said at a news conference announcing the studies Sunday, “If we were able to remove the detrimental effects of these genes through treatments, we could reduce the proportion of people developing Alzheimer’s by 20%,” she said to Reuters.

Cardiff University researchers looked at the genetic map of more than 16,000 people from eight countries and found the two genes, Clusterin and PICALM, increased the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The second study, from the Institut Pasteur de Lille in France, looked at more than 6.000 with Alzheimer’s and compared them to 9,000 healthy people. They identified Clusterin and another gene, CR1.

The studies are published online in the journal Nature Genetics. The genes contribute to the amyloid theory of Alzheimer’s, which blames an accumulation of brain-damaging protein, reports NPR.

The three new genes now join the better-known APOE4 gene, which is linked to 20 to 25 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.

More than 226 million already have Alzheimer’s disease and the number of cases is forecast to go beyond 100 million by the year 2050. About 400 genetic variations have been discovered in recent years, yet there is still no effective treatment other than delaying the symptoms of the disease.

Amyloid Dissent

But other researchers have broken from the amyloid theory pack and found their funding and support has dried up, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In her studies, Dr. Jie Shen, a molecular geneticist and neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School and her colleagues shut down mouse genes involved in the production of beta-amyloid, a protein forming plaques in the brain, which kill brain cells, erase memory.

Adult mice missing the gene that produces the amyloid protein, still suffered memory problems and brain-cell death. Dr. Shen concluded the amyloid is something the brain needs in order to think. Publishing those results was practically impossible because, “powerful people in this field think that amyloid causes Alzheimer’s and won’t consider research that questions the amyloid hypothesis,” according to one Harvard scientist.

They blame large egos for the lack of inquiry beyond amyloid, and look at mutations in presenilins, an enzyme, as a likely cause of Alzheimer’s among toxic metals, cholesterol, or inflammation.

Insulin has the ability to protect the brain from harmful proteins associated with Alzheimer’s, suggests researchers at Northwestern University, who treated the hippocampus, a region of the brain where memories are stored, with insulin and Avandia, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes. #

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