CHICAGO (STMW) — Medical researchers have identified four new genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease, a discovery they hope will offer a portal into what causes the illness.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers from a consortium, including Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, identified the genes, with each individually adding to the risk of dementia later in life, a release from Northwestern said.

The discovery is a major advance in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research.

Researchers from Feinberg’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Control contributed DNA samples from patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to the study.

Until recently, only four genes associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s have been confirmed, with APOE-34 having the largest effect on risk, the release said.

This study adds another four — MS4A, CD2AP, CD33 and EPHA1 — and contributes to identifying and confirming two other genes, BIN1 and ABCA7, thereby doubling the number of genes known to contribute to the disease.

“Right now there is no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s,” said Marsel Mesulam, director of Feinberg’s Alzheimer’s disease control center. “But, if we identify specific protein abnormalities associated with these risk genes, we may be able to develop novel therapeutic approaches.”

This discovery will also contribute to predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s, which will be important when preventive measures become available, the release said.

Knowing these risk genes will also help identify the first disease-initiating steps in the brain long before symptoms of memory loss or intellectual decline are apparent. This knowledge will help researchers understand the events that lead to the destruction of large parts of the brain and eventually complete loss of cognitive abilities, the release said.

The study by the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium is the result of a collaborative effort with investigators from 44 U.S. universities and research institutions taking part, the release said.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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