Consortium Discovers Five New Genes Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

In the largest study of its kind, researchers have identified four new genes linked to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. An additional study has confirmed a previously identified gene and found a fifth, USA Today reported.

In the first study, researchers compiled and analyzed genetic data from 54,000 individuals – about a third whom had Alzheimer’s and the rest of whom did not – to identify the four new genes.

The study was conducted by scientists from 45 universities and research institutes in the United States.  Collectively, the group was called the Alzheimer’s disease Genetics Consortium.  The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Later, the consortium also helped to identify a fifth gene, which was reported in the second study by scientists from the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and other European countries.

“I’ve been in Alzheimer’s genetics since 1985, and I would have to say this is the most exciting event that’s happened,” said lead author of the first study Gerard Schellenberg, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia.  “Up until this point, there have only been five known genes for Alzheimer’s risk, and so we’ve essentially doubled the genes people know about.”

Finding new genes is essential, according to Schellenberg, because each gene is a clue as to what causes the degenerative disease.  The researchers hope their findings will help scientists develop new drugs and identify high-risk individuals.

“The brain is like a black box. You can do some imaging when patients are alive, and poke around after someone dies, to try to figure out why someone has Alzheimer’s or not,” but the new findings may increase the ability to predict who will get it, Schellenberg said.

Currently, treatments for Alzheimer’s are limited, and there is no prevention or cure for the disease.

Many of the genetic researchers involved with these studies are planning an even larger, similar study in the future, called the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project.

Both studies were published in the journal Nature Genetics.