British researchers identify 75 genes that may raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease

If vascular neurologist Dr. Rishi Gupta, had to pick one word to describe Alzheimer's disease, a progress brain disorder that gradually robs sufferers of their memory and ability to interact with the world around them he would say frustrating

"It's incredibly frustrating," Dr. Gupta says. "It's very difficult on caregivers, and it's very difficult for the patient. I think I would say, as of today, we're very challenged in treating patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and there is no proven, effective therapy to date for individuals with Alzheimer's disease."

So, the co-director of the neuroscience service line at Wellstar Health System says he is excited to hear British researchers, in the largest study of its kind so far, have identified 75 genes that may raise a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's, including 42 that have not been previously linked to the disease.

Researchers analyzed the genome of more than 100,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, comparing them with over 600,000 healthy individuals.

"When they compared the patients with Alzheimer's disease to the control group, or the normal aging population, these 75 targets are very specific to Alzheimer's patients," Dr. Gupta says. 

The hope, he says, is the findings will give researchers more clues about what is going wrong in the brain, and help them develop new treatments that could target the specific genes implicated in Alzheimer's.

"The goal is, if I know Patient A had genes A, B and C, I could deliver a treatment just for those three genes," he says. "And, I think that's what's exciting."

But, Dr. Gupta cautions, turning discoveries like this into treatments will take time.

"I think I would say we should be cautiously optimistic," he says. "We should be cautious, because, once we identify a gene, therapeutics may still be 5 to 10 years away from the gene (discovery). So this is not, 'Tomorrow, we're going to have a treatment.' I want to be very clear about that."

Still, Gupta says, the discovery gives researchers more insight into Alzheimer's, and it could help identify patients with mild cognitive impairment who might benefit from clinical trials of new therapies down the road.

"It's offering us ways to identify patients in a more structured manner and be more specific to the individual's type of Alzheimer's disease," he says. "What it's not, is, it's not a treatment today. So, we're excited anytime such studies come out which offer targets. Unfortunately, it's a step; it's not the end-all, be-all, but it's a step in the right direction."