Every 67 Seconds: Genetics in Alzheimer’s Disease

Mayeux_2012Genes passed down from generation to generation within families are the main culprit in contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research for the disease is focusing on individual variations of these genes, instead of trying to find a “one size fits all” treatment.

That was part of the message delivered by Richard Mayeux, the Gertrude H. Sergieysky co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center. Mayeux’s talk on the role that genetics plays in Alzheimer’s disease last Thursday evening at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan came at an opportune time. November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month and National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

Mayeux, M.D., MS.c., who is also Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, has been featured in the New York Academy of Sciences podcast series, Dementia Decoded. His research on genomes aims to understand the differences in gene structure and what it could mean for future treatment.

Through the use of genome-wide association studies, Mayeux and his colleagues are examining common genetic variants to see if any variant is associated with the traits common to the disease. (See more about the gene involvement in the brain in our Brain in the News article, Genetics and the Brain.) Mayeux believes that developing successful treatments will depend on better understanding genetic and environmental influences. His research team has learned that treatment will be tied to each patient’s individual genetic profile and specific gene structure. Mayeux outlined examples of individuals with varying levels of APOe, a protein that is heavily involved in Alzheimer’s, and the different ways that it influences how each individual processes amyloid. Factors such as these, as well as many others, make each patient unique. He described future treatment for the disease as “precision medicine,” such as the way cancers, brain tumors, etc., are cared for.

Mayeux said that he and other specialists submit their research findings and family studies to a large database open to all qualified scientists. With the Obama Administration’s $50 million reallocation towards Alzheimer’s research, funds have been committed to study the genome in more detail, and the use of Mayeux’s and other scientists’ datasets will help in conducting more accurate analyses. In the Q&A, Mayeux expressed his enthusiasm for a breakthrough and the renewed pharmaceutical interest –

“I’m more than halfway through my career – and I’ve never been more excited.”

With life spans expanding due to advances in almost every other area of medicine, Mayeux’s research is vital to the future of the nation’s healthcare system. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 5.3 million people in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and a new person is diagnosed every 67 seconds. Heathcare costs to treat the disease in 2015 are estimated at more than $200 billion.

To see Richard Mayeux and other specialists speak more about Alzheimer’s disease, check out the Dana Foundation’s YouTube playlist, Dana Alliance Experts on Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease.

– Celina Sooksatan

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