PROVO — Researchers at Brigham Young University have played a major role in discovering a new Alzheimer's risk gene.
Scientists from BYU, King's College, London, The National Institutes of Health and Washington University Medical School discovered a rare genetic mutation — TREM2 — that increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Though the causes of the disease are unknown, the finding puts medical researchers and scientists closer to a cure. The research, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, could lead to diagnostic tests predicting the Alzheimer's between five and 15 years before onset.
"In terms of giving us new information, to develop new therapeutics, this is a finding of great impact," said BYU Geneticist Dr. John Keoni Kauwe." This gene has a larger effect on risk for Alzheimer's disease than anything else that's been discovered since the original report."
Their research is a huge jump in learning about a gene associated with the immune system that is linked to a higher risk for the disease.
As they work, they are racing against the clock. The number of Alzheimer's cases worldwide will double in the next decade. The costs for a single patient per year are in excess of $100,000.
"It's why we need a solution and certainly this research gets us much closer, gives us the understanding we need to get closer to a cure," Kauwe said.
Their discovery affects only a small percent of the population, but it is a strong indicator in what may be a key player in the disease.
"It's about understanding something fundamentally new about a disease and using that information to develop better strategies for prevention and cure," Kauwe said.