Can A Gene Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease?
A genetic switch may be the key to warding off Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature. Researchers identified a genetic mutation that may protect against Alzheimer's and other cognitive declines.
The majority of Alzheimer's patients have clumps of a protein called amyloid in their brain, unlike typical healthy people - though what role this plays in the disease is unknown. A gene for amyloid plays a key role in these clumps and researchers say this gene may offer protection from the disease.
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While the mutation is rare, it confers a 40 percent reduction in amyloid-forming proteins. In addition, study participants aged between 80 and 100 with the mutation had better mental function, according to the study.
"This is an extraordinary paper," Dr. Sam Gandy, chair in Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told WebMD. "This provides some of the strongest evidence ever that amyloid is the right target in Alzheimer's."
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States, affecting more than 5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people who suffer from the disease is expected to double every 20 years as population increases and people live longer
Symptoms of Alzheimer's include memory loss, confusion, difficulty completing familiar tasks, decreased judgment and problems speaking or writing.
Many researchers are already focusing on amyloid as a potential target for Alzheimer's treatment, and Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer's division at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the findings will push the research forward.
"This article is fascinating, as it supposes that there may be a spectrum of progression in Alzheimer's disease," he told WebMD. "We are learning more and more about the influence of genetics on cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease."
Healthcare costs related to Alzheimer's disease totaled almost $8 billion in 2010, according to the Alzheimer's Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Alzheimer's patients in the federal and state governments.
There is as yet no cure or successful treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The Obama administration set a goal of 2025 to find an effective treatment and pledged to spend an additional $50 million on dementia research on top of the $450 million the government spends annually until a treatment is found.
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