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September 7, 2009

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Scientists excited by Alzheimer's genes find

SCIENTISTS have found three new major genetic links to Alzheimer's, affecting up to 20 percent of people with the brain-wasting disease, and said yesterday it was the most significant such discovery in 15 years.

Two studies found that the three new genes join the better-known APOE4 gene as key risk factors for the most common cause of dementia.

"If we were able to remove the detrimental effects of these genes through treatments, we could reduce the proportion of people developing Alzheimer's by 20 percent," Julie Williams, a professor of Neuropsychological Genetics at Britain's Cardiff University, told a news conference in London.

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 26 million people, has no cure and no good treatment. The need for effective remedies is pressing, with the number of cases forecast to go beyond 100 million by 2050.

Williams, who led one of the two studies published in Nature Genetics, said that in Britain alone, eradicating the effects of the three new genes would mean almost 100,000 people could avoid the disease.

She said drug companies had shown a keen interest.

Williams and colleagues carried out a genome-wide association study - a scan of the entire genetic map - involving more than 16,000 people from eight countries. They identified two new genes that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

A second genome-wide study conducted by Philippe Amouyel and colleagues at the Institut Pasteur de Lille in France studied more than 15,000 people and identified a third gene.


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