Researchers Uncover Genetic Alzheimer's Link
> 1/15/2007 11:16:43 AM

In what could be a groundbreaking development in the continued treatment of one of the world's most common mental health disorders, scientists appear to have isolated a possible genetic source for Alzheimer's disease in a test population.

There's no question that this is positive news for the Alzheimer's community, but it is also not the first time a particular gene has been named as a possible cause of the disease. In previous studies, individuals have been shown to be at greater risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's if they inherit a certain variation on the APOE (or apolipoprotein E) gene, whose primary function is to create a protein used in the transferral of excess cholesterols from the bloodstream to the kidneys. Since Alzheimer's results from a malfunction in the distribution of certain proteins, it is very plausible that this gene could be involved in bringing about the condition, and older adults who have the gene often display problems with memory and cognition even if they do not qualify for an Alzheimer's diagnosis. The newly highlighted gene, known as SORL1, also serves to direct the movement of protein within nerve cells. The mutated form of this gene found in the Alzheimer's patients surveyed leads to decreased protein production and, consequently, an altered stream of traffic that affects the levels of protein present in the brain.

Some field experts remain sceptical of the new evidence, placing greater faith in previous research:

Dr. Sam Gandy, a researcher who chairs the medical and scientific advisory council of the Alzheimer's Association, which helped finance the new study, said that he doubted SORL1 or any other gene plays as big a role in causing the disease as APOE does.

But these two genes are not the only ones connected to a higher incidence of Alzheimer's. At least thirteen unique genes have been named as potential causal agents, but none have been confirmed. Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects, high-fat diets and sedentary lifestyles, are also linked to an increased risk of developing the disease. While the new data will certainly contribute to the growing body of research on a condition that affects as many as four million people in the United States alone and continues to grow. An estimated fifty percent of citizens over eighty-five suffer from Alzheimer's, and, yet again, our negligent lifestyles,promise to bring about an even higher incidence in the near future.

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