DNA Mapping Of Alzheimer's Patients Gives Deep Dive View

by Michelle Fay Cortez ,  Bloomberg.com | 2012-07-02

Over the past 18 months, 81-year-old Bill Bunnell has visited the doctor a half-dozen times to take memory tests, provide blood samples, and undergo a spinal tap and imaging scans. It’s all part of the most extensive study ever conducted on Alzheimer’s.
Now researchers are about to take an even closer look at Bunnell, a retired engineer from Madison, Connecticut.

Working with $2 million in new grants to be announced this week, the researchers for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative will, for the first time, start mapping the DNA of 800 participants in a study attempting to find the root causes of memory loss. The goal is to see if physical changes from Alzheimer’s can be matched to genetic disparities, which can then be compared with findings from healthy people like Bunnell.

“If there’s ever to be progress in the discovery of the fundamentals that lead to Alzheimer’s, this is the way to do it,” said Aubrey Milunsky, director of the Boston University Center for Human Genetics, which isn’t involved in the research.
The grants are split evenly from the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit health group focused on the care and treatment of people with the disease, and the nonprofit Brin Wojcicki Foundation, a charitable organization created by 23andMe Inc. co-founder Anne Wojcicki and her husband Sergey Brin, co-founder of Mountain View, California-based Google Inc.

Tracking Changes
The research initiative, funded by the U.S. government, nonprofit groups and private industry, began tracking physical and mental changes in people ages 60 and older in 2004. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease that destroys brain cells and makes it difficult for patients to think, remember and function. It afflicts 5.1 million Americans, a number that may grow to 16 million by 2050, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The ADNI study has sought to tie the development of symptoms to physical changes in people with Alzheimer’s, including deposits of protein tangles and plaque in the brain over time.

 



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