Landmark study aims to find genetic link to Alzheimer's disease

More than 500 families affected by Alzheimer's Disease are participating in a landmark study led by Columbia University Medical Center to find a genetic link to the disease. That number will now double to 1,000 under a new $10 million five-year grant from National Institute on Aging. The researchers hope to find a way to predict who will get Alzheimer's Disease.

The new grant is a continuation of the National Institute on Aging Late-Onset Alzheimer's Disease (NIA-LOAD) study, led by a Genetics Coordinating Core (GCC) at Columbia University. The study has already overseen the collection of 2600 samples from 519 families, and the new grant will include follow-up and genotyping for these families.

Six of the original Alzheimer's Disease Centers (Columbia University, Indiana University, Mayo Clinic, University of Washington, Washington University and the University of Texas at Southwestern) will form a consortium with the existing GCC at Columbia University, and work with the remaining 12 centers on coordinating follow up with the families that are already participating in the study.

"Many steps in the development of the disease remain unknown, and we may be able to understand the process more fully with the discovery of more genes," says the principal investigator Richard Mayeux, M.D., M.Sc., the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology and the director of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center and co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain. "We intend to identify the genes underlying Alzheimer's disease with the hope that that this will help in the development of drugs to treat or possible prevent the disease altogether."

An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's Disease and by the year 2050 it is estimated that between 11 million and 16 million will join their ranks. Currently, one in 10 people over the age of 65 have the disease, and nearly half of those over 85 have it. The cost of Alzheimer's in the United States alone is in excess of $100 billion annually.

The researchers are interested in a protein called amyloid, which is known to be a factor in the disease. In Alzheimer's patients amyloid somehow becomes misfolded and becomes toxic to nerve cells, likely setting up a cascade of inflammation. The researchers believe that teasing out the genes that regulate amyloid production and processing could be a major advance in understanding this disease. Although amyloid protein is known to be connected with Alzheimer's, genes in other pathways may also be important.

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