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Three genes found with Alzheimer's links

Scientists working in Britain and France have identified three genes believed to play a role in Alzheimer's disease

Teams of scientists working in Britain and France have identified three genes that are believed to play a role in Alzheimer's disease. It is hoped that the discovery will be helpful in the development of a diagnostic tool to pinpoint high-risk candidates and encourage lifestyle changes, as well as in the development of drugs to tackle this debilitating disease in the long term.

Two papers published in Nature Genetics report that the DNA of 36,000 people was studied and that the faulty genes were found among people with Alzheimer's, although at this stage the role of the variant genes remains unknown.

The British research involved analysing the DNA from more than 16,000 people over two years.

The results were then compared to those from a similar French study, which confirmed the first two discovered genes and identified a third.

According to Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, the findings are a leap forward for dementia research.

Two of the genes, named CLU and CR1, may be involved in the elimination of amyloid plaques which have been shown to form in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's.

The other, called PICALM, controls brain chemicals that are important at synapses, or the connection between neurons, and is involved in transporting molecules into and inside nerve cells, key to memory formation.

The French team, from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, reported that they had identified around 10 other genes that warranted further research.

A larger study, involving 60,000 people, is planned, which they hope will bring results in the next year.

Brain training
The BBC radio 4 programme, Today, reported on research being undertaken to find out whether computer-based brain training games actually work. Tests are being conducted at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, where candidates have a "before" brain scan using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), followed by a second scan six weeks later, to see if brain training in the interim makes a difference.

The sophistication of the MRI images enables scientists to see clearly the activity in different parts of the brain during a range of brain tests. The results of the experiment will be shown on BBC series, Bang Goes the Theory. Researchers hope that greater understanding of the brain will lead to advances in treating diseases like Alzheimer's.

7th September 2009


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