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Studies Highlight Genetic Risk For Alzheimer's

New research conducted by British and French scientists has identified three genes that are linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease. The findings could lead to reducing the risks in these genes leading to the degenerative brain disorder.

"We know of one gene that's been identified 15 years ago called APOE that's a risk factor for common Alzheimer's disease," said neuroscientist Julie Williams of Cardiff University in Wales. "What we have identified with our research is another two genes (CLU and PICALM), and when we put the results of our study together with a French study, we have confirmed another gene."

The French team, led by Philippe Amouyel, a neurologist and epidemiologist at the Institut Pasteur de Lille, also discovered the CLU variant, as well as a new genetic variant -- CR1. The research findings from both groups was published in the academic journal Nature Genetics.

Genetic Link To Alzheimer's

The genetic component of Alzheimer's disease is high, according to Julie Williams. "We all have risk factors for disease," she said. "But it's only when the burden of risk becomes high enough does a disease develop. Now with Alzheimer's disease I could give you a speculative example that if you have 10 risk factors, you may develop Alzheimer's by the age of 75. If we could remove the effects of say two of those factors, the disease development may occur at the age of 90."

The researchers discovered that the genes with links to Alzheimer's initially help the brain. "Some of the genes that were identified have in their normal function a protective role in the brain," said Williams. "So we speculate that having the variations in these genes that is associated with Alzheimer's disease may remove that protection or even turn these protective factors into attackers of the brain. That's a possibility."

According to Alzheimer's Disease International there are an estimated 30 million people worldwide with dementia, which primarily affects older people, and is characterized by the deterioration of thinking and memory patterns.