For those of you unfamiliar with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), it is a neurological or brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking ability. Eventually, the disease progresses to the point that a person can’t carry out basic, everyday tasks. Mostly, symptoms of AD appear after age 60; however, AD can also affect younger patients in early-onset cases. Researchers believe that the disease may begin affecting a patient 10-20 years before symptoms are noticeable.
Recently, a worldwide research group identified a number of new genes and pinpointed exact ones that may be risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s been up for discussion for some time that there may be genetic risk factors for certain diseases, AD among them, but recently scientific advances have shown that there may indeed be genetic propensity to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Until this research was done, a single gene, APOE, was linked to Alzheimer’s. Now, there are at least three more that may also directly or indirectly affect a person’s chance to develop the disease. Although the new genes don’t directly correlate with developing Alzheimer’s, they may pave the way for more breakthroughs and eventually a discovery of what biological factors directly influence the development of disorders such as AD.
In the United States, the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging established the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium, or ADGC. The Consortium provided researchers at the university and professional level to combine and compare data and link to each other for support. Similarly, researchers across the US, UK, and Europe combined data on genetic research involving Alzheimer’s. Both projects were funded by the National Institute of Health, and the results of the study were published as two papers in the online edition of Nature Genetics on April 3, 2011.
The researchers took information taken from the genetic information provided by Alzheimer’s patients as well as cognitively normal people and the differences at the genetic level pointed to certain genes that may be a factor in developing disorders like this. Certain variants in genetic code seemed to consistently be associated with the disease.
This research suggests that Alzheimer’s may begin on a cellular level, involving protein movement and lipid transportation. The new insights provided by this study promise to change the way scientists look at this disease as well as others.