An international collaboration of scientists led by researchers at Cardiff University and in the US has discovered five genetic variations associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The results come from combining four separate genetic studies into Alzheimer’s involving nearly 60,000 people worldwide. Alzheimer’s Research UK has heralded the findings as further evidence of how “UK scientists are leading the field in our understanding of the genetics of Alzheimer’s”.
The new findings, published in Nature Genetics, will help researchers focus work on the causes of Alzheimer’s and provide new treatment targets. It’s not thought that these genetic variations have a large effect on a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but genetic susceptibility combined with lifestyle, environmental factors and ageing are all thought to be involved in causing Alzheimer’s.
The study was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and Welsh Assembly Government among others.
There are now ten genetic variations that have been associated with the common form of Alzheimer’s (affecting people over 65). This is expected to provide scientists with a clear route to developing new treatments.
The paper’s lead-author, Prof Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser to Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "What’s exciting about our findings is that the genetic variations we’ve found all fit together. Five of the recently identified genes all have a role to play in the immune system. Four have functions at the cell surface and three are involved in moving fats around inside our cells. It’s likely that these processes have a key role to play in causing Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s an exciting time for genetic research. Modern technology has allowed us to complete this work and we’re really getting to the crux of what causes Alzheimer’s. We hope this will give us valuable new leads in the hunt for effective treatments.”
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which part-funded the study, said: “UK scientists are leading the field in our understanding of the genetics of Alzheimer’s. These findings are a step towards defeating dementia. We are yet to find ways of halting this devastating condition, but this work is likely to spark off new ideas, collaborations and more research.
“UK scientists are making fantastic progress towards defeating dementia and we need to support them all the way. With enough investment in research we can offer hope to the 35 million people worldwide who live with dementia.”