Finding Clues to Alzheimer’s in DNA

In what’s being described as the largest, most complete genetic mapping project for a single disease, scientists Monday announced a plan to obtain the genetic make-up of more than 800 individuals enrolled in an Alzheimer’s research study.

The research will determine all 6 billion letters in each individual’s DNA. The new data – vast and shared worldwide with eligible researchers – may explain how genes cause changes in the body that lead people to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s probably dozens or scores of genes that are contributing to whether you get it and how severe it is in you,” said Dr. Robert Green, a physician-scientist at Harvard Medical School who is tasked with coordinating the genetic sequencing. “The genome is a complicated place. It’s not just about identifying a gene that puts you at risk. It’s about identifying other genes that modify those genes. It’s about identifying genes that protect you.”

The $2 million genetic sequencing project is being conducted by the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Brin Wojcicki Foundation.

The sequencing will be completed in three months.

It will take much longer to know whether the study participant’s decoded genomes yield any breakthrough strategies to treat the more than 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease.

“I would expect it to point us to new areas we might want to investigate for therapies,” said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “I expect that it may point us to new areas that will allow us to predict who’s at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease and who could be treated early before they have any signs of dementia.”