Alzheimer's researchers have five new genes to ponder

New insights into the most baffling diseases of our day often, frustratingly, go in stops and starts. But when it comes to understanding Alzheimer's disease, the discovery of five more genes thought to be responsible for the degenerative brain disease is considered a huge leap forward. The discoveries do not mean that a cure is on the horizon, but it does mean that scientists are a step closer in understanding the role our genes play in this debilitating, costly disease and could eventually lead to new methods of detecting Alzheimer's much earlier in life. The next step is more research into how all these genes work together to produce Alzheimer's.

First, here's the news: In what is being billed as the largest study of its kind, a consortium of 44 research institutions identified four new genes that indicate Alzheimer's disease risk. Another group of investigators from the United States and Europe reported a fifth gene. This news doubles the numbers of genes now thought to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.

Bloomberg reports that the new discoveries raise the risks for Alzheimer's by 15 percent or less, so they are not necessarily markers for the disease. However, they are helping researchers "piece together the jigsaw and gain new understanding," lead researcher Julie Williams told Bloomberg.

Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, told Bloomberg that he is most excited by one particular newfound Alzheimer's gene: CD33. It might be responsible for a failure of the body to eliminate as much beta amyloid as it should. Beta amyloid buildup has long been thought to play a key role in degradation of nerve cells in the brain.

Still, it will be a decade or more before any of these discoveries will translate into drugs, but it has the Alzheimer's research community buzzing over new avenues of possible inquiry. The research can be found in the journal Nature Genetics.

- read the story from Bloomberg
- a release from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
- another release from Mount Sinai School of Medicine
- and take a look at the abstract in Nature Genetics

Special Report: Making sense of the Alzheimer's drug pipeline