GLOBAL: New discovery may lead to Alzheimer's treatment

A group of international scientists have pinpointed two genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, a discovery that may lead to new treatments and possible cures for this progressive and degenerative brain disorder.

Working with scientists from around the world, Professor Julie Williams, from Cardiff University's School of Medicine in Wales, in the UK, was the head scientist for the largest-ever joint Alzheimer's disease genome-wide association study (GWAS). The study involved 16,000 individuals and was able to identify the CLU and PICALM genes' unique relationship with Alzheimer's disease.

"CLU is a clusterin - a type of protein - which normally protects the brain in a variety of ways," said Professor Williams. "Variation in this gene could remove this protection and contribute to Alzheimer's development."

"PICALM is important at synapses - connections between brain cells - and is involved in the transport of molecules into and inside of nerve cells, helping form memories and other brain functions," continued Professor Williams. "We know that the health of synapses is closely related to memory performance in Alzheimer's disease, thus changes in genes which affect synapses are likely to have a direct effect on disease development."

The international study involved scientists from universities in London, Cambridge, Nottingham, Southampton, Manchester, Oxford, Bristol and Belfast as well as Irish, German, Belgian, Greek and American institutions. It was published in the September issue of the academic journal Nature Genetics.

Alzheimer's disease is characterised by the deterioration of thinking and memory patterns and is the most common form of dementia (accounting for 60-70% of all cases). According to the global advocacy umbrella group Alzheimer's Disease International, every year 4.6 million new cases of dementia are reported worldwide, which works out to one new case every seven seconds.

It is not the genes that are new but the discovery so please don't use misleading titles like "New genes may lead to Alzheimer's treatment".

Peter Miller