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Scientists uncover new hereditary links to Alzheimer’s disease

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This international study, which received major funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), is a significant step forward in understanding how Alzheimer’s develops and opens up new areas for further research into potential treatment and genetic screening.

Results from the research, which involved analysing the DNA from over 16,000 people over two years, show the genes CLU and PICALM can play a direct role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Until now only one gene, APOE4, had been clearly identified as a potential risk factor.

The Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) has emerged from the MRC new flagship research centre in Cardiff which is dedicated to genetic research into the disorders of the brain.

Lead author of the study, Professor Julie Williams, said:

    “This research is changing our understanding of what might cause the common form of Alzheimer’s disease and could provide valuable new leads in the race to find treatments. If we can combat the detrimental effects of these two genes, we estimate it could reduce the chances of people developing Alzheimer's by almost 20%.”

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

    “Funding work on neurodegenerative diseases is priority for us and MRC investment in this kind of innovative research is crucial in piecing together the Alzheimer’s puzzle. This study is a huge step towards achieving an earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and improving the lives of the many people affected by the disease."

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said:

    “These unprecedented findings are the result of collaborations led by funders and scientists alike. Charities including the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and Wellcome Trust enhanced the MRC’s immense contribution to this work, while scientists throughout the UK and around the world shared data, ideas and more to make the study possible. This opens up multiple avenues that could lead to the development of new treatments for this devastating disease.”

The Medical Research Council invested £1.74 million in the programme of research, alongside major funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, among others.

Data from the GWAS research was shared with a further French-led study, which has revealed compelling evidence for a third gene associated with Alzheimer’s called CR1.