Friday, January 14, 2011

Canadian scientists identify gene that destroys brain cells in people with Alzheimer's, Down syndrome

From The Vancouver Sun:

Researchers at the University of B.C. and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute have identified the gene that destroys brain cells in both Alzheimer's patients and people with Down syndrome.

Dr. Weihong Song, the Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer's disease and UBC professor of psychiatry who led the team, said the discovery opens the way to find a drug that could forestall dementia in people with either condition.

"It will likely take years to find a therapy or drug that could block the spread of the disease, and that's our next target," Song said Wednesday.

The team found that the excessive production of a protein called Regulator of Calcineurin 1 (RCNA1) sets in motion a chain reaction that kills off neurons in the hippocampus and cortex of people who have either Down syndrome or Alzheimer's disease.

"Neuron death is the primary reason for the memory loss and cognitive impairments of Alzheimer's disease, and it's the main reason people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer's disease long before most people, usually in their 30s," said Song.

He said that by looking at common elements related to both conditions, researchers were able to pinpoint how and why the deterioration occurred.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and usually affects people over the age of 60. More than 238,000 Canadians are believed to suffer from Alzheimer's disease.