An international research team led by scientists at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Queensland, has identified three new genes linked to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The study, supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK and also involving researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is published today (18 May) in the journal Translational Psychiatry (you can find the preprint here). It’s been a good week already for Alzheimer’s research with a couple of stories already hitting the headlines.

The study looked at the DNA of people with Alzheimer’s, and those of children of people with Alzheimer’s. The analysis identified around 30 new genes associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Child data was used in this study to help increase the power of the analysis by increasing the quantity of data points.

The research involved genetic information from over 300,000 people from the UK Biobank. As most of the participants were too young to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the research team looked to medical information about their parents, many of whom had developed the disease.

Prof Peter Visscher, from the University of Queensland, said:

“By focusing on people with a family history of Alzheimer’s, we have been able to take advantage of a wealth of existing data to gain new insights into the genetics of the disease. One challenge of this method is that we rely on people to provide accurate information about whether their parents developed Alzheimer’s, and in some cases the disease can be mistaken for another form of dementia or go undiagnosed.”

Dr Riccardo Marioni, from the University of Edinburgh, said:

“New genetic discoveries can provide vital clues to the biological processes involved in Alzheimer’s, but our genetic makeup is not the only factor that affects our risk of the disease. We are now working to combine genetic data and information about people’s lifestyle to produce more comprehensive and personalised picture of Alzheimer’s risk. Understanding how genetic and lifestyle factors interact to affect our overall risk could lead to more targeted risk reduction strategies and pave the way to precision medicine in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“This innovative research highlights three new genes linked to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and presents promising leads for future research. The next step will be for molecular scientists to assess how these genes might contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and fit in to the existing picture of the disease. Interestingly, two of these genes are targeted by drugs that are used to treat other conditions, signalling a potential direction for research into new Alzheimer’s treatments.

“Dr Marioni is unlocking the power of big data by applying cutting-edge statistical techniques to rich medical, genetic and lifestyle information provided by hundreds of thousands of research volunteers.

People don’t have to have dementia to take part in research studies, and anyone who is interested in playing a part can find out how at http://www.joindementiaresearch.org

“There are currently no treatments to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, but research can change this picture. Alzheimer’s Research UK is proud to be supporting this pioneering research, none of which would be possible without the efforts of our dedicated supporters.”

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