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NCMH investigator helps uncover Alzheimer’s genes

An international collaboration of scientists including NCMH Principal Investigator Professor Julie Williams CBE has uncovered 11 new susceptibility genes linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

This major breakthrough will significantly advance scientists’ knowledge of Alzheimer’s. It throws open new research avenues and enables a better understanding of the disease’s disordered functional processes.

Published today in Nature Genetics and undertaken by the International Genomics Project (IGAP), the work details 11 new regions of the genome involved in the onset of this neurodegenerative condition. The research, part-funded by the Medical Research Council, the Welsh Government and Alzheimer’s Research UK, builds on the genome-wide association analysis study that has since 2009 discovered 10 genes known to be associated with Alzheimer’s.

“This discovery will pinpoint new mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease,” said Professor Julie Williams, who is Head of Neurodegeneration at the School of Medicine’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre on Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (MRCNGG), who led one of four global research consortia. Professor Williams also holds the post of Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales.

“By combining the expertise and resources of geneticists across the globe, we have been able to overcome our natural competitive instincts to achieve a real breakthrough in identifying the genetic architecture that significantly contributes to our mapping of the disease.

“What surprised us most about the findings was the very strong pattern that showed several genes implicating the body’s immune response in causing dementia,” she added.

“We now have a total of 21 published genes known to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, though a large portion of the genetic risk for the disease remains unexplained. Further research is still needed to locate the other genes involved before we can get a complete picture.”

NCMH Director Professor Nick Craddock said: “The study that Professor Williams has been involved in with the MRCNGG is a perfect example of how ambitious projects can lead to important advances in the way we understand mental disorders. The more we can understand conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, the closer we come to finding a way to combat them.”

Read more about this story on the BBC News website and the Cardiff University News Centre website.

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