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Researchers Uncover More Alzheimer's Genes

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Friday, October 31, 2008 9:57 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Alzheimer's and Dementia, APOE4 Gene, Bapineuzumab


IMAGE SOURCE: © Wikimedia Commons/ progressive dementia patient/ author: Dr. Laughlin Dawes

Researchers with the Alzheimer’s Genome Project used a family-based genome-wide association approach to identify four new areas that affect the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say the findings may eventually help pave the way to new Alzheimer’s treatment options.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 5.2 Americans are currently living with the disease. By 2050, that number will likely increase to 16 million.

Some genes, associated with the most common form of disease, appear to be linked with known genetic risks for Alzheimer’s, report researchers at Harvard Medical School.

“The findings could affect the way we diagnose, treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers examined samples from more than 1,300 families. The study is published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Several genes have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, most notably the APOE4 gene, which increases the risk of developing the disease.

Using gene chips, researchers did a genome-wide association study to check activity of all human genes among families with an Alzheimer’s patient and compared findings with the family members who had not developed the disease.

“The strongest indications were seen from chromosome 14, which like the APOE gene, appears to influence age of onset, is sufficient to warrant more intensive research into its role in the process of never cell death in this disease,” Tanzi said.

This new gene is in the same general area of the presenilin-1 gene, which researchers have previously linked to an early-onset of the disease, though they are unsure exactly what this gene does. Some indications suggest it may control the activity of other genes.

Drug makers have already started using genetics to develop new Alzheimer’s treatments. Elan Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth’s experimental drug bapineuzumab, or AAB-001, is currently being tested in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who are APOE4 carriers.

Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease. Current medications can help delay disease symptoms, if only slightly, but inevitably patients will experience loss of memory and the associated inability to recognize friends and loved ones.

A recent study found vitamin B supplements do not slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While another study suggests researchers may be one step closer to diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease while the patient is still alive, increasing the opportunity for treatment sooner. For the first time, researchers, using clinical-grade magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs), have located Alzheimer’s-like plaque in rabbits. #

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