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Gene Variant May Contribute to Alzheimer's Disease
Date:6/25/2008

The finding could open the door to improved treatments

WEDNESDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've discovered a gene that may make it easier for people to develop Alzheimer's disease, and it could become a target for drug treatments.

"This new work not only provides a better understanding of the mechanism leading to the disease, but identifies a risk factor as an important target for therapy," said Philippe Marambaud, an assistant professor of pathology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and member of an international team of scientists that released its findings Wednesday.

Alzheimer's disease, which causes senility and can lead to death, affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans. The Alzheimer's Association predicted earlier this year that it will strike one in eight Baby Boomers, and that number is expected to climb as the population ages.

The disease is incurable, and treatments have a limited impact. However, scientists think they understand how the disease develops as bits of protein called amyloid plaques clog the brain.

In the new study, published in the June 27 issue of the journal Cell, scientists from several countries studied the human genome and discovered a gene whose variations may make Alzheimer's disease more likely.

Variations of the gene, known as CALHM1, open gates on the surfaces of brain cells and allow calcium to get inside them, potentially leading to Alzheimer's disease, Marambaud said.

"If you carry this risk factor, you are at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease," although it's not guaranteed that you will get it, he said. People with a copy of a single type of the gene variation appear to be 1.44 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, with an even higher risk for those with two copies of the abnormal gene.

The findings "open up big avenues for research," Marambaud said, allowing sc
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