An ambitious new study led by scientists at Cardiff University in Wales will look at the influence of genetics and lifestyle in Alzheimer’s disease.
The £6m global project aims to produce the most comprehensive understanding of the disease’s risk to date.
There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the United Kingdom, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. These numbers will rise to more than one million by 2021.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 50 to 70 percent of cases. The study’s lead researcher, Professor Julie Williams, says that beating Alzheimer’s will be an international effort.
Put simply, this is a study large enough to get answers. The insights gleaned will pave the way for a new era of therapies for the disease.
Professor Williams is head of neurodegeneration at Cardiff University School of Medicine’s Medical Research Council Centre on Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics: “For too long scientists studying Alzheimer’s have been working in silos, engaged in a single-minded race to try and beat the disease. That’s simply not going to happen unless we pull together.”
Williams told Wales Online: “The aim of our study is to harmonize the research of scientists studying the genetic risk of Alzheimer’s with the work of those studying the lifestyle influences, with the ultimate goal to creating more personalized treatments for the disease – and, better yet, treatments that offset it altogether. Put simply, this is a study large enough to get answers. The insights gleaned will pave the way for a new era of therapies for the disease.”
She added, “We predict that in future, based on this unrivalled data, GPs may be able run a simple test to analyze a patient’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A combination of gene therapy, drugs and lifestyle changes could then be prescribed to reduce that risk.”
Researchers will look at the genetic data of more than a million people from Europe, the United States, Australia and Asia. The size of the study is significant, as a larger sample of data allows for more accuracy and a stronger basis for analysis. Susceptibility to Alzheimer’s will be encoded using a risk score, taking into account both a person’s genetic makeup and their lifestyle habits.
In addition to improving the scientific understanding of the pre-symptomatic phase of the disease, this could open up early clinical trials on those who are asymptomatic, and search for a way prevent the disease’s manifestation.
Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our risk of developing Alzheimer’s is likely to be down to a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, and the better we understand these factors the greater our chance of finding ways to intervene.”