How significant in the search for an Alzheimer's cure is the discovery of three new genetic variations associated with the disease?
National Institute on Aging/Wikimedia Commons
A PET scan of an Alzheimer's patient's brain.
A PET scan of an Alzheimer's patient's brain. National Institute on Aging/Wikimedia Commons
The genes may play "at least as big a role as four others discovered in the last 15 years," the Washington Post reports. That's the good and the bad news, it seems.
The science is fascinating, and every shred of insight about the still-mysterious cause of the dementia is a good thing. But for years now researchers have been finding genetic variants that appear more frequently in Alzheimer's patients—about 400 so far. Yet treatments haven't advanced beyond a few drugs that temporarily slow the march of the disease.
The latest discoveries, published online by the journal Nature Genetics, lend some support to the amyloid theory of Alzheimer's, which holds the accumulation of a protein in the brain causes the damage.
Still, as the Los Angeles Times' Thomas H. Maugh II writes on the blog Booster Shots, the finding "has little immediate practical benefit. It cannot be used to screen for an increased risk of the disorder and it most likely does not present any therapeutic targets."
One of the variations described is in the granddaddy of Alzheimer's genes, called APOE for short. A previously found variant in the gene, called APOE 4, is a powerful genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's. But even that discovery, made in 1993, hasn't cracked the treatment problem for the disease.