Scientific breakthrough in fight against Alzheimer's

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A team of scientists from Britain and France have discovered three genes that could help them develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. The groups trawled through DNA from thousands of patients to come up with the finding – the first breakthrough of its kind in 15 years.

Julie Williams, professor of Neuropsychological Genetics at Cardiff University, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide the finding was significant.

“These are new leads in understanding what are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and hopefully, then, the basis for future preventions and treatments.

"The next step is to tie down the understanding of what these genes do and how they contribute to the development of the disease.”


Biggest cause of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the biggest cause of dementia and a quarter of all cases are believed to have a genetic cause. The study was the biggest ever genome-wide association study. Publishing their results in the Nature Genetics journal the French and British researchers said they have identified three new genes that increase the risk of people developing the illness.

Professor Williams’ study looked at more than 16,000 people from eight countries and her team pinpointed two new genes – Clusterin and PICARM – that increase the risk of developing dementia.

Risk Genes
The French team from the Institut Pasteur in Lille studied 6000 Alzheimer’s sufferers as well as 9000 healthy people. They discovered a third so-called ‘risk gene’ called CR1.

Both teams will now look more closely at how the three genes work and whether it is possible to eliminate their effects.

Prof Williams said: “We all have some risk factors for a variety of diseases but it’s only when you have over a certain number of them for any particular disease do you tend to develop it.

“If you have ten genes you may develop Alzheimer’s at the age of 75. If we can take away the effects of two of those risk genes we can have onset possibly at the age of 90. That effectively takes out a lot of people from ever developing Alzheimer’s disease.

More funding for research
Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the British Alzheimer’s Society, said she hopes the findings will lead to more investment for similar studies.

“In the next ten years one million people will develop dementia but the government currently spends eight times less on dementia research than cancer research."

“This investment now needs to be drastically increased so we do not miss out on the incredible opportunity to build on these findings and ultimately win the battle against dementia.”