Newly Discovered Genes Could Be A Game Changer In Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a complex illness without a cure, but researchers are racing to understand its intricacies, hoping to provide hope for those struggling with the devastating disease. The disease is prevalent among Americans, with an estimated 6.5 million Americans living with the disease in 2022, per the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that alters memory, behavior, and cognition (via Alzheimer's Association). The risk of Alzheimer's increases with age and is most common in those over the age of 65, although "early-onset Alzheimer's" can affect those under 65 as well. The most common warning sign is forgetting newly learned information, a function that begins in the part of the brain that affects learning. The disease then progresses and advances through the brain, leading to disorientation, mood and behavior changes, deep confusion, unwarranted suspicions about family or caregivers, more serious memory loss and behavior changes, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking. While there's currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, a new international study may have unlocked more secrets to understanding this crippling illness.

New pieces to the puzzle uncovered

The largest study of genetic risk for Alzheimer's to date, the culmination of 30 years of research and collaboration between research centers in eight countries (via UK Dementia Research Institute), has been published in the journal Nature Genetics. The study identified 42 new genes associated with the risk of developing Alzheimer's and confirmed previous findings. While lifestyle factors can contribute to your risk of the disease, like smoking, exercise, and diet, 60-80% of the risk is actually based on genetics. The study is significant because it shows that a certain biological pathway including TNF-alpha, a protein that plays a big role in inflammation and immunity, is involved in the development of Alzheimer's. It was the largest study of its kind, analyzing over 100,000 people living with Alzheimer's.

Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, likened the study to having all the edge pieces of a puzzle in place, providing an important framework for the future (via CNN). Study co-author Julie Williams feels confident that this groundbreaking research will lead to new treatments to address Alzheimer's disease (via UK Dementia Research Institute).