Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

New Genes for Alzheimer's

There is no cure, no vaccine and no way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease without an autopsy. But there may be hope in the discovery of four new genes that contribute to the most common form of the disease. The genes emerged from a study of over 1,300 families, and although the genes' exact role in Alzheimer's isn't known yet, researchers think they may contribute to the death of nerve cells. As the disease progresses, fatty plaques and fibrous tangles of protein build up in the brain, ensnaring nerve cells and eventually strangling them to death. The newly identified genes may shed light on how to keep those nerves alive, which may be an important target for future therapies. Even more exciting is that one of the genes produces a protein that nerve cells use to communicate, another function that declines when Alzheimer's sets in. Dozens of genes have already been linked to Alzheimer's, but each newly discovered gene represents a new target and new hope for future drug treatment.