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British Researchers Lead Largest Ever Alzheimer’s Gene Discovery

More than 180 dementia researchers from across Europe and the US have joined forces to perform the largest genetic study of late-onset Alzheimer’s to date, identifying 11 potential new genes linked to the disease. The global collaboration, co-directed by researchers at the University of Cardiff, benefitted from funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, and is published on 27 October in the journal Nature Genetics.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, affecting people over the age of 65. The risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s are complex, and likely to involve a mix of age, lifestyle and genetics. Researchers have been working for years to try to map the contribution of each of these factors.

To date, 11 genes have been linked to an altered risk of Alzheimer’s disease but to discover potential new genes that may have fallen under the radar of these studies, researchers joined forces to pool their data and build more strength in their analysis.

This venture involved a huge collaborative effort from researchers across the globe, who pooled samples to enable genetic information to be studied from more than 25,000 people with Alzheimer’s and 48,000 healthy controls.

The team compared the DNA code of people with and without the disease, looking for subtle changes in the code that are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. This new research confirmed nine of the previously linked genes, as well as highlighting a further 11 areas of the genome linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. The team is now pinpointing which genes in these 11 areas could be involved in the disease, to learn more about the biological processes driving Alzheimer’s.

Prof Julie Williams, who helped to lead the study, said:
“What surprised us most about the findings was the very strong pattern that showed several genes implicating the body’s immune response in causing dementia. We now have a total of 21 published genes known to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, though a large portion of the genetic risk for the disease remains unexplained. Further research is still needed to locate the other genes involved before we can get a complete picture.”

“Our work demonstrates that, given the complexity of such a disease, only a global collaboration will quickly find solutions to tackle this major threat. It would be greatly encouraging to also see the world’s molecular biologists all pulling together, breaking out of their silos and uniting in their aim of unravelling disease and developing the treatments to tackle it.”

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“By mapping the genetics of the most common, late-onset form of Alzheimer’s, these findings highlight new biological processes that could significantly advance our understanding of this devastating disease. Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that requires a multi-faceted research approach and this important study shows the progress that can come through collaboration.

“Advances in technology have accelerated genetic research in recent years and Alzheimer’s Research UK is pleased to be supporting scientists at the cutting edge of this progress. While this new discovery holds real potential, the true value will come from pinpointing the exact genes involved, how they contribute to Alzheimer’s, and how this could be translated into benefits for people living with the disease.”

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