Scientists discover two genes that cause the disease – and how to target them
A groundbreaking study has found two new genes which could be linked to Alzheimer’s.
Until now, these genes were seen as protectors, since they are part of the brain’s immune system.
However, scientists at Cardiff University have demonstrated that they can also create fertile ground for the neurodegenerative disease.
Crucially, they said there are clear ways to target these genes – potentially blocking them from triggering dangerous activity.
Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society which jointly funded the work, said: ‘Over 60 percent of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease, yet despite its prevalence we still don’t fully understand the complex causes of the disease.
‘The discovery of two new risk genes for Alzheimer’s is an exciting advance that could help to deepen our understanding of what happens in the brains of people with the disease.
‘These genes reinforce a critical role for special cells in the brain – called microglia – that are responsible for clearing up debris including damaged cells and proteins.’
Dr Brown said such findings helped to show researchers where to focus their efforts in the search for new, effective treatments.
The researchers from Cardiff University received funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), Welsh Government and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
They identified the two genes, which were not previously considered candidates for Alzheimer’s risk.
The study compared the DNA of tens of thousands of individuals with Alzheimer’s with aged-matched people who are free from the disease, building on their previous work of identifying 24 susceptibility genes.
Dr Rebecca Sims, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said the genes, which suggested immune cells in the brain played a causal role in the disease, were ‘very good’ targets for potential drug treatment.
She added: ‘In addition to identifying two genes that affect the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, our new research reveals a number of other genes and proteins that form a network likely to be important in its development.’
The university was selected as one of six centres for the £250 million UK Dementia Research Institute in April and the team there will now build on this discovery to investigate in detail the role of microglia in dementia, which Dr. Brown said will ‘ultimately accelerate our progress towards finding a cure’.
The centre is set to become the biggest investment Wales has ever received for scientific study into dementia.
Dr Rosa Sancho, who is head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, likened the revelations to ‘finding puzzle pieces that biologists can start to fit together to build a complete picture of a disease’.
She said: ‘There are currently no treatments to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and increased investment in research is vital so that we can capitalise on new findings and drive progress for people with the condition and their families.’
The research ‘Rare coding variants in PLCG2, ABI3 and TREM2 implicate microglial-mediated innate immunity in Alzheimer’s disease’ is published in Nature Genetics.
Written by Mia De Graaf and published by The Daily Mail ~ June 17 2017.
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