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BYU researchers uncover genetic link that could protect against Alzheimer’s disease

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PROVO — Researchers at Brigham Young University have made a discovery they say brings them a step closer to being able to one day treat — and hopefully prevent — Alzheimer’s disease.

A study, published in Genome Medicine on Nov. 29, explores why people who should get Alzheimer’s disease — based on genetic factors — remain healthy.

Among the study’s authors are two BYU biology professors whose findings come from relatives of Alzheimer’s patients in Cache County.

“What we found is that these individuals shared a genetic variant in a gene called Rab 10 with each other that they did not share with their loved one who died of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. John Kauwe, one of the BYU professors who helped author the study.

With these new findings, BYU is collaborating with several other institutions such as the University of Utah, Utah State University, the Mayo Clinic and the Washington School of Medicine to take their research to the next step of someday treating and even preventing the progressive disease.

“That piece of information makes us think that if we can knock down this gene, it could provide a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease,” Kauwe said.

Researchers believe the risk of getting the disease can be reduced by targeting the genetic function with drugs.

While Alzheimer’s research has been going on for years at BYU, many of the researchers involved in this particular project have a personal connection to the disease. Kauwe’s great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s which, in part, motivated him to work toward finding a cure.

“I know that my grandmother and, in particular, her sister really devoted much of their lives taking care taking care of her, and so I understand the suffering and sacrifice that is associated with this disease,” he said.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, according to the National Institute on Aging. In most people affected by the disease, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. In some extremely rare cases of early-onset Alzheimers, symptoms can appear as early as the mid-30s. Currently, there is no known cure or prevention for the disease.

The next step in this research will take place in several labs across the country. Researchers will begin to identify individuals that carry the variant and use new technology and identify molecules, Kauwe said.

While a viable treatment is still many years away, researchers believe there is hope for the future. In the meantime, this latest discovery serves as a small victory in the ongoing battle to find a solution for a disease that impacts countless families.

“It is really exciting,” Kauwe said. “I have been at this my entire career and I intend to stay at it until we are done.”

Contributing: Yvette Cruz,


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