UK Biobank: new genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease identified

Written by Olivia Stevenson, Future Science Group

Research fronted by scientists from the University of Edinburgh (UK) and the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) has revealed three new genes that may be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), by analyzing genetic data of individuals with a family history of the disease.
Currently, lifestyle changes are the main way in which the risk of developing AD is managed, however, the results of this study could lead to potential new treatments.

AD has become more prevalent over the past few decades, as populations live longer, and its frequency is only set to increase. This makes research into its treatment a priority when it comes to public health. However, until now, genetic studies have been limited in size due to the small amount of data available for individuals with AD.

In this study, published recently in Translational Psychiatry, the researchers carried out a large-scale analysis of genetic data from individuals with a parental history of AD. Using information from more than 300,000 participants from the UK Biobank, as well as previously published consortium data, researchers were able to carry out a meta-analysis and identified three new genes that may be associated with the development of AD.

Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK (Cambridge, UK), commented: “This innovative research highlights three new genes linked to the risk of AD and presents promising leads for future research. Interestingly, two of these genes are targeted by drugs that are used to treat other conditions, signaling a potential direction for research into new Alzheimer’s treatments.”

Usually, to identify genetic risk factors for diseases such as AD, researchers compare the DNA of individuals with the disease to that of their healthy counterparts. By including the genetic data of individuals with parental history of the disease, researchers were able to utilize a much larger sample size, increasing the power of the study.

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This study is leading the way in utilizing big data to enhance scientists’ understanding of the genetics of AD. By understanding this, as well as lifestyle factors that may contribute to the development of the disease, new methods of treating AD could be on the horizon.

“New genetic discoveries can provide vital clues to the biological processes involved in Alzheimer’s, but our genetic makeup is not the only factor that affects our risk of the disease. We are now working to combine genetic data and information about people’s lifestyle to produce more comprehensive and personalized picture of Alzheimer’s risk,” concluded lead author, Riccardo Marioni, from the University of Edinburgh.

Sources: Marioni RE, Harris SE, Zhang Q et al. GWAS on family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Transl. Psych. doi:10.1038/s41398-018-0150-6 (2018) (Epub ahead of print);