What are the latest developments in Alzheimer's?

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What are the latest developments in Alzheimer's?
« on: 20/03/2009 22:30:02 »
AlisonT asked the Naked Scientists:
I recently heard you talk about new developments in the treatment of Alzheimer's. Please could you send me some information on this topic.
Also a question, my maternal grandfather suffered from the disease and now my mother is in advanced stages. What are the chances of me developing Alzheimer's and is there a test for it?
Kind Regards
Alison Thompson

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What are the latest developments in Alzheimer's?
« Reply #1 on: 22/03/2009 12:54:18 »
Dear Alison,

Firstly I am really sorry to hear your mother is suffering from AD, its a misunderstood disease in the way it robs family of the one they love.

As for the new advances in treating AD, there are currently new drugs ( about 10 or so I think) being trialled that attack the biological pathways of AD and halt/slown down the progression of the diseaase. As I understand the drugs available at the moment reduce the symptoms of AD but do nothing to stop the neurodegeneration.
There has been more coverage in the media of late due to Terry Prachet being diagnosed with a rare form of AD, and he has generously donated money to the research department at my University, to help further research.

As for your chances of developing AD, I can only give you a rough idea, so I do recommend you contact your GP. However with AD there unfortunately is nothing clear cut about genetic predisposition, and some of it will depend on the age of onset that your Mother and Grandfather developed AD. Familial AD usually occurs early, 40's or 50's, sometimes as early as 30's, but only account for about 4-8% of AD cases.There has been some evidence in families that have many generations that suffer from AD that there are some faults on chromosome 14 and 21, both of which canlead to the progression of AD, but not always. The remainder of the cases, about 92-96% are sporadic, meaning there is no known link, and they usually happen later on, 65yrs+. There has been some genetic research that show a link between a specific protein (called APOE) and  an allele that makes it; and an increased chance of developed AD. I won't bore you with the molecular side, but an allele is a part of a gene, you inherit 2 copies,one from each parent, only one of which is 'switched on'. i.e its why you may have the same eye colour as your Father or hair colour as your Mother. The APOE allele is responsible for many things, but research has shown that a particular form of the allele can slightly higher chance of developing AD, and I emaphasize the word slightly. There are lots of people who have the same form of allele and do not develop AD.
However,the allele link is not a definate hereditary one, it sounds confusing after I explained what an allele is, but there are 3 different alleles that can make the APOE protein, and it will all depend on which one the person has, and which one is 'switched on'.
I hope that makes some sense and I haven't confused you even more! The problem with AD is there are no definate answers, which is frustrating to say the least and its what much of the research is based on. It really is a "might be might not but not definate" scenario for anyone whose family members have AD.
As for testing I am not totally sure, I think you can have your genetics sequenced to see if you have any hereditary or genetic predisposition to AD, but given the variable scenario above its very hard to determine anyone risk, and may well put you under undue stress.
I do know that research has shown that, living a heatlhy lifestyle with regular exercise does reduce the chances of developing AD, its what we are advised with other diseases like cancer and heart disease, but it enviromental factors do contribute, and it makes sense that the healtheir we casn keep our bodies the more benefical it will be.