Scientists at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered a new genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease by screening people's DNA and then using an advanced type of scan to visualize their brains' connections.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia in the elderly, erodes these connections, which we rely on to support thinking, emotion and memory. With no known cure for the disease, the 20 million Alzheimer's sufferers worldwide lack effective treatment.
And we are all at risk: Our chance of developing Alzheimer's doubles every five years after age 65.
The UCLA researchers discovered a common abnormality in our genetic code that increases the risk of Alzheimer's. To find the gene, they used a new imaging method that screens the brain's connections -- the wiring, or circuitry, that communicates information.
Switching off such Alzheimer's risk genes (nine of them have been implicated over the last 20 years) could stop the disorder in its tracks or delay its onset by many years, reports Science Daily.
The research is published in the March 4 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We found a change in our genetic code that boosts our risk for Alzheimer's disease," said the study's senior author, Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology and a member of the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.
"If you have this variant in your DNA, your brain connections are weaker. As you get older, faulty brain connections increase your risk of dementia."