Scientists discover genes that can delay Alzheimer’s by up to 17 years

News & Analysis

2nd December 2015

Researchers have identified nine genes that play a part in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The study’s lead researcher, Mauricio Arcos-Burgos from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, says the findings could help scientists develop new treatments to delay the onset of the disease.

It is predicted that Alzheimer’s will affect one in 85 people globally by 2050.

The researchers studied 5,000 people from one extended family in Colombia, who are afflicted by a type of hereditary Alzheimer’s. They were able to identify genes that delayed and accelerated the disease. They were also able to ascertain by how much the genes increased or decreased the speed of the disease’s progression.

Professor Arcos-Burgos studied the variable age of onset of dementia in this family, rather than trying to treat symptoms which develop later in life. The team were able to discount environmental factors and trace their genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease back to a founder mutation in one individual who came to the region about 500 years ago.

The researchers identified genes which, in some cases, delay the onset of the disease by up to 17 years.

Professor Arcos-Burgos said: ‘If you can work out how to decelerate the disease, then you can have a profound impact. I think it will be more successful to delay the onset of the disease than to prevent it completely. Even if we delay the onset by on average one year, that will mean nine million fewer people have the disease in 2050.’