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Tackling the genetic cause of Alzheimer’s

18 November 2010

Professor Julie WilliamsProfessor Julie Williams

A leading University expert in identifying genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease will meet with some of the world’s other figures for the first-time in Paris (Friday 19th November) in a bid help share knowledge and speed-up the genetic fight against the disease.

The International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) is a major international consortium which brings together for the first time four of the world’s leading research centres – including Professor Julie Williams, School of Medicine, who leads the Genetic and Environmental Risk in Alzheimer’s Disease (GERAD).

Professor Williams, School of Medicine, said: "Bringing together the world’s leading experts in the identification of genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease is an extremely exciting development and the end of a seven year effort.

"This meeting has the potential to help pool resources and knowledge, which means we could help find more genes, more quickly.

"Genes help us pinpoint what is going wrong and map the development of Alzheimer’s. Finding genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease will provide insights into its causes and new targets for drug discovery."

Professor Julie Williams recently completed the largest-ever joint Alzheimer's disease genome-wide association study (GWAS) involving 16,000 individuals and sponsored by the Medical Research Council, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, uncovered two new genes associated with Alzheimer's disease. Previously only one gene, APOE4, had been shown to be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. The study revealed, for the first time, that two further genes, CLU and PICALM, are related to Alzheimer's disease.

The four groups that will meet in Paris include: the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium (ADGC) from the United States led by Gerard Schellenberg from at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; the European Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative (EADI) in France led by Philippe Amouyel, MD, PhD at the Institute Pasteur de Lille and Lille University; the Genetic and Environmental Risk in Alzheimer’s Disease (GERAD) from the United Kingdom led by Julie Williams at Cardiff University; and the Cohorts for Heart and Aging in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) led by Sudha Seshadri, MD, at Boston University.

Identification of genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk and that influence the progression of disease will help reveal basic pathogenic mechanisms; identify proteins and pathways for drug development; and provide genetic methods for determining subjects at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease when preventative measures become available.

While each consortium work on their own research, the creation of the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) recognises that by working together a large enough collection of participants could be amassed to accelerate gene discovery.

"We are very excited by this collaboration that brings together, for the first time, all of the large genetics groups in the world working on Alzheimer's disease," say Amouyel, Schellenberg, and Seshadri.

"We have high expectations that this type of cooperative effort will greatly advance our knowledge about this important disease," they added.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder for which there are no prevention methods. Current medication only marginally affects disease severity and progression, making Alzheimer’s disease effectively untreatable. Alzheimer’s disease can progress to complete incapacitation and death over a period of several years.

In last year’s World Alzheimer Report, Alzheimer’s Disease International estimated that there are 35.6 million people living with dementia worldwide in 2010, increasing to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050.

The total estimated worldwide costs of dementia are US$604 billion in 2010.

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