Written by Matthew Harper.
Anyone who has ever known someone suffering from Alzheimer’s knows just how devastating the disease is. However, some new research that is getting scientists excited might help move us in a direction where we’ll never have to witness Alzheimer’s devastation again. There’s a new gene variant that is guiding scientists’ research—a gene that some say might quadruple the risk of Alzheimer’s. That, clearly, sounds like bad news at first, but what it really means is that scientists have a new area to focus on in hopes of learning more about the disease and ultimately preventing it.
On Wednesday, November the 14th, The New England Journal of Medicine published the first information about this gene variant, or, more accurately, this gene mutation. The mutation takes place in an inflammation-linked gene. When this mutation occurs, it “significantly increases” the risk for Alzheimer’s. According to Reuters, the discovery of this gene mutation and its link to Alzheimer’s is the first such breakthrough in better than a decade and could lead to a lot of important research in the future in hopes of turning the tide on the terrible Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important to note, however, that this gene, known as TREM2, is incredibly rare. Much more rare, in fact, than APOE4, the previously known “cause” of Alzheimer’s, which is present in 40 percent of cases of people with late-onset Alzheimer’s. The TREM2 gene is far rarer than that — at least ten times more (Reuters).
The TREM2 gene and its mutation were found by two separate teams working independently and, though it is very rare, the teams still feel it’s a huge discovery in Alzheimer’s research. “In my mind, this is very important. It gives us another important clue as to one of the biological factors that contribute to causing the disease,” said Dr. Allan Levey, who serves as the director of the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Center of Excellence, located in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s chief medical officer, Dr. William Theis, told the Associated Press that this discovery gives more precise direction for future Alzheimer’s research than in the past and that, “years down the road, this discovery will likely be seen as very important.”
The biggest question, though, comes in the form of other known problems that the TREM2 gene is related to. Specifically, the gene is already tied to other forms of dementia. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi wasn’t involved in the findings on this gene’s supposed link to Alzheimer’s, but as a geneticist and director of an Alzheimer’s research group at Harvard Medical School, he has some concerns about this alleged breakthrough. “I would like to see more evidence that this is Alzheimer’s rather than one of the other dementias already tied to the gene,” he said. With questions or not, though, he did call the new research “exciting” (The AP).