Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine have found a new link between a specific gene and Alzheimer’s disease. The finding could change the way drugs aim to prevent or slow the disease.
It’s been known that a gene called BCHE accelerates the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which then leads to memory loss.
But the gene also contributes to memory loss in another way. IU Center for Neuroimaging Director Andrew Saykin, the study’s principal investigator, says BCHE is found in protein plaque build-ups linked to Alzheimer’s. His study was the first to find the gene in living people.
“The hope is that by detecting and intervening at an earlier stage, treatments will be effective for preventing the deposition of these plaques or helping to clear them out or both,” Saykin says.
Eric Siemers, the Medical Director for Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s team, says drug companies including his have been focusing on removing plaque deposits containing a protein called amyloid beta – a protein found in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s.
But current drugs don’t currently target the BCHE enzyme. Siemers says a lot of money and resources have already been put into their current drugs, so it’s unlikely companies will redirect their efforts overnight.
“You can’t do everything, so you have to be pretty strategic in terms of putting enough effort into one area like amyloid, but not completely putting all your eggs into one basket,” Siemer’s says.
Siemers says the study is a key piece of the large body of genetics research which has been a boon to Alzheimer’s treatment in recent years.