Research Projects

How do risk genes lead to Alzheimer’s disease and how can they be used to create new drugs?

University of Bristol - Medical Sciences

Awarded to:
Prof James Hodge

Current award:

University of Bristol

1 October 2020 - 30 September 2023

Full project name:

Functional screening of novel genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease to investigate new mechanisms, therapeutic targets and drugs






Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a complex mix of genetics, age, and lifestyle factors.

Scientists have discovered around 20 risk genes – the biological instructions for life – that are associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. These established genes only account for a part of the genetic risk for Alzheimer’s and researchers have identified a number of other, genes that they suspect may play a role in Alzheimer’s risk.

Now a major focus in dementia research is to better understand the effects of these potential risk genes.

This will help researchers understand why some people develop Alzheimer’s while others don’t and will help learn more about the biological chain of events that leads to the disease.

Researchers let by Prof Hodge at the University of Bristol will use the fruit fly to study the risk genes in more detail.

But why the fly? We know that 75% of disease-causing genes in humans are also found in the fruit fly. We even share certain behaviours, and the humble fruit fly is really good for looking at the effect of changes to genes on nerve cell loss, dying younger and memory loss.

The team will see if changes in these genes cause brain degeneration in fruit flies, how they interact with hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins amyloid and tau, and how they affect the behaviour of the flies.

The researchers will go on to investigate if Alzheimer’s processes can be slowed or stopped by targeting the new risk genes. The project will provide researchers with a raft of new information about the genetics underpinning Alzheimer’s disease.

The more we learn about the triggers of Alzheimer’s, the greater our chances of finding a treatment that can halt nerve cell damage and make a real difference to the lives of people with dementia.

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Dementia is one of the world’s greatest challenges. It steals lives and leaves millions heartbroken. But we can change the future.