New research could change the way health professionals treat Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 35.6 million people worldwide, a figure set to treble by 2050.
Research published today in Nature Genetics detailed the discovery of new genes that may play a role in adding to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older people up to 20 years before clinical symptoms become apparent.
Associate Professor Velandai Srikanth from the Stroke and Ageing Research Group of Monash University’s Southern Clinical School led a team of Australian researchers from the Menzies Research Institute and the University of Queensland in collaboration with the Cohorts for Heart and Ageing Research in Genomic Epidemiology consortium, affiliated with Boston University. Australian researchers analysed data from the Tasmanian Study of Cognition and Gait.
The researchers looked at the genes that contribute to the size of the part of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is important for memory. This invariably shrinks during the course of ageing but the shrinkage is believed to become more pronounced during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Associate Professor Srikanth said analysing data from more than 9,000 people using advanced brain imaging and genetic analysis led to the breakthrough.
“Our study makes a major contribution to the body of knowledge available and will stimulate further work in identifying disease mechanisms and potentially new treatments for the widespread disease,” Associate Professor Srikanth said.
“We investigated what new genetic markers there might be to explain why the hippocampus shrinks and have discovered a set of new genes that are likely to be responsible.
“The functions related to these genes may indicate pathways that underlie the development of Alzheimer’s disease in people up to 20 years before symptoms actually surface.
“Results suggest that the effect of having one copy of these ‘risk’ genes was that the hippocampus, on average, was as small as that of a person four to five years older.”