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Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Alzheimer's Research Could Lead To Treatments

Alexis McKenzie, right, executive director of The Methodist Home of the District of Columbia Forest Side, an Alzheimer's assisted-living facility, puts her hand on the arm of resident Catherine Peake, in Washington,  Feb. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Alexis McKenzie, right, executive director of The Methodist Home of the District of Columbia Forest Side, an Alzheimer’s assisted-living facility, puts her hand on the arm of resident Catherine Peake, in Washington, Feb. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

A new report in the journal Nature shows a significant step forward in figuring out what causes things to go wrong in the brain early on in Alzheimer’s disease.

The research could lead to new treatments.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is projected to triple by 2050. So there’s urgent demand for treatments — or even better, a cure — but so far, there has been little progress on that front.

Connecting the dots

Scientists have long known that carrying a bad variant of the gene APOE4 greatly increases the chance of developing the disease later in life.

Researchers looked at the postmortem brains of people who carried these bad APOE4 variants and they tried to “connect the dots” biologically between having APOE4 and actually getting Alzheimer’s.

They systematically analyzed thousands of genes and how they were expressed in the brain, meaning whether they were turned on or off, looking for patterns.

A promising lead

They were looking for a “smoking gun” — a traceable molecular path between APOE4 and developing the disease — and they did identify a handful of possible smoking guns.

One of the new findings in this research is that a gene called SV2A could be important in the development of Alzheimer’s.

It’s already known that it’s possible to block that gene using an anti-seizure drug, so that drug could help fight Alzheimer’s.

Words of caution

The lead researcher, Dr. Asa Abeliovich, a neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Taub Institute, cautions that though this is clearly a promising lead, it’s too early to think about treatment based on these findings.

“It’s really important to emphasize that this is still in an early, pre-clinical stage,” Abeliovich said. “It’s exciting that there are safe drugs out there that can hit this target, but I think it would be inappropriate at this point to start taking that medicine based on our work alone.”

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