Research Projects

Using large data collections to understand the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Awarded to:
Prof Katie Lunnon

Current award:

University of Exeter

1 October 2023 - 30 September 2027

Full project name:

Utilising big data and long-read sequencing approaches to understand APOE (epi)genetics in Alzheimer's disease.






A person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease depends on a complex interaction of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors as well as their age.

The biggest genetic risk factor is the APOE gene, this can exist in three different versions. People with a certain version of this gene, called APOE4, have a higher risk of getting Alzheimer's. Those with the APOE2 version are less likely to develop the disease.

Researchers don’t fully understand how the different versions of the APOE gene affect our risk of Alzheimer’s. But scientists in Exeter are working to find out.

While there is nothing we can do to change our genetic makeup, a process called epigenetics can change the activity of our genes.

Epigenetic changes involve chemical tags that latch on to sections of DNA and alter the instructions a gene provides to a cell. Researchers have discovered that some epigenetic changes play a role in diseases.

Prof Katie Lunnon is a leading expert in the epigenetics of Alzheimer’s. Her team in Exeter has recently discovered epigenetic changes in APOE genes of people with the disease.

This project is following up on this new discovery. PhD student Luke Weymouth will test the idea that:

  • The APOE4 gene version is prone to particular epigenetic changes in later life.
  • These epigenetic changes disrupt the normal activity of APOE.
  • Faulty APOE then contributes to Alzheimer’s brain changes and increases a person’s risk of developing symptoms.


What will they do?

The study analyses large amounts of information gathered from individuals at different ages and looks at which version of the APOE gene they have, if there are any epigenetic changes and whether they have Alzheimer’s disease.

By comparing the patterns Luke aims to learn more about different versions of APOE, epigenetic changes and environmental factors that affect the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding how the biggest Alzheimer’s risk gene contributes to the disease will provide new insights that could help inform new treatments and prevention strategies.

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