Australian scientists identify genes that delay Alzheimer's disease by 17 years

By @iamkarlatecson on
Alzheimer's Patient
Monica Briceno makes herself up in her apartment before learning that her eviction has been postponed in Madrid April 5, 2013. Briceno is a 70 year-old separated woman living on a pension of 364.90 euros ($475) and suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She has an advanced cognitive impairment and an eviction from what was her home for the last 40 years could cause irreparable damage. Clinical studies prove that to remove an Alzheimer patient from her usual place of residence and routines can accelerate the progress of the disease. She's been living in a cheap rental apartment (old rental system) in Madrid since 1974. In 2001, after her legal separation, a judge gave her single tenancy rights. She has always complied with her payment obligations but the homeowner now claims the house for personal use. Authorities have postponed her eviction until the 24th of May, while her unemployed son Christian tries to relocate her through social services to a place where she can be properly taken care off. Reuters

While a number of researchers are scrambling to find the elusive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, a team of Australian scientists now claim they have gone a step further by delaying the disease by up to 17 years.

According to the team at the Australian National University, they have isolated a network of nine genes that play a key role in the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The finding could help scientists develop new treatments to delay the onset of the disease, says lead researcher Associate Professor Mauricio Arcos-Burgos from The John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU.

In a study of a family of 5,000 people in Columbia, scientists identified genes that delayed the disease, and others that accelerated it and by how much.

The Columbian family is afflicted by a type of hereditary Alzheimer's. They are a unique resource in the fight against the disease because they are such a large, close-knit family and live in a specific region in the western mountains of Columbia.

The United States National Institute of Health has put $170 million towards developing treatments for Alzheimer's, which will be tested amongst this family.

Associate Professor Arcos-Burgos and his team took a different approach, studying the variable age of onset of dementia in this family, rather than trying to treat symptoms which develop later in life, even though changes in the brain can be observed in individuals before the age of 20.

With the cooperation of the family, the team was able to discount environmental factors and trace their genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease back to a founder mutation in one individual who came to the region about 500 years ago.

Arcos-Burgos is now turning closer to home, to study the genes of a group of Queanbeyan people who have been followed for the past 10 years.

“If you can work out how to decelerate the disease, then you can have a profound impact,” scArcos-Burgos said. “I think it will be more successful to delay the onset of the disease than to prevent it completely. Even if we delay the onset by on average one year, that will mean nine million fewer people have the disease in 2050."

Alzheimer's disease affects up to 35 million people around the world and is predicted to affect one in 85 people globally by 2050.

A physical disease of the brain, Alzheimer’s disease results to progressive damage to brain cells that causes dementia, according to Better Health Channel. It is the most common form of dementia in Australia, accounting for about two thirds of cases. 

The brain degeneration that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease affects memory, thinking skills, emotions, behaviour and mood. As a result, a person’s ability to carry out daily activities becomes impaired. 

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