Cardiff University is setting out to shape global research standards on Alzheimer’s disease in a £6 million multinational and collaborative study, investigating the links between genetics, lifestyle choices and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Led by the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at the Cardiff University School of Medicine, the study will combine the efforts of researchers from leading neurology schools in Europe, Asia, Australia and the US to get the most comprehensive and clear account to date on why the disease develops and, conclusively, what can be done about it. The research sample consists of more than one million people aged over 65, some of them are younger.
Professor Julie Williams, the Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales and one of the leading Alzheimer’s researchers in the UK, is also supervising this study at Cardiff University.
“The aim of our study is to harmonise the research of scientists studying the genetic risk of Alzheimer’s with the work of those studying the lifestyle influences, with the ultimate goal to creating more personalised treatments for the disease – and, better yet, treatments that offset it altogether,” she says.
The researchers will assess the individual risk of every participant by taking into account their genetic makeup, lifestyle and diet, distinguishing those of a high and low risk status. Through the results they mainly seek to improve strategies in Alzheimer’s disease prevention and early intervention.
According to a press release from Cardiff University, it is all about “saving the brain before it reaches a state of irreversible damage.”
The press release also revealed: “Previous studies have uncovered a total of 21 susceptibility genes linked to Alzheimer’s. The findings revealed significant evidence that shows clusters of genes implicating potential biological pathways in the disease, including cholesterol transport and the immune system.”
According to Alzheimer’s disease International (ADI), dementia is estimated to affect 35.6 million people all over the world. By 2050 the number is expected to rise to over 115 million. Statistics from ADI demonstrate that generally one in twenty people over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80 tend to develop dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society in Wales estimate that over 45,500 people in Wales suffer from dementia. Dementia is the main symptom of Alzheimer’s. During the course of the disease, protein ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ develop in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells. People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemicals are involved with the transmission of messages within the brain.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, the symptoms become more severe.
So far, no one single factor has been identified as a cause for Alzheimer’s disease. Not every dementia sufferer’s brain displays the protein accumulations that are characteristic for Alzheimer’s, which makes research into the precise mixture of its causes all the more significant.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “At the most recent G8 summit on dementia on December 11th 2013 in London, world leaders pledged to find a cure or disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025. To meet this ambition we need large-scale, collaborative research studies like this to make real headway in understanding what causes dementia and who is at risk. It is really positive to see a UK institution leading the way, uniting scientists from across continents in a common goal to unravel the complex interplay between genetic and lifestyle risk factors for dementia. Only by working together can we make the aspirations of the G8 a reality.”
By Sarah Weckerling