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BYU prof part of large team that linked two new genes to Alzheimer’s disease

  • Two new genes linked to Alzheimer's disease

Brigham Young University biology professor John “Keoni” Kauwe is part of an international research team that reports the existence of two genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the new issue of Nature Genetics.

“In the case of Alzheimer's disease, and with other diseases which have effectively ‘stumped’ the medical world, novel genes are particularly important,” Kauwe said. “What we currently know about the disease hasn't led to effective interventions. That might be because we are missing an important part of the process. These new genes and the research that they spawn may just shed some light on the important things we are missing.”

The team, led by scientists in Wales, looked at hundreds of thousands of bits of DNA collected from each of nearly 4,000 Alzheimer’s patients. They compared that with the genetic code of about 7,000 healthy people of about the same age and noted the genetic variations that appeared more commonly in the sick individuals than the healthy.

“You’re looking at hundreds of thousands of variants in thousands of people – it really is a needle in a haystack situation where you want to find just that handful of genes that influence disease,” said Kauwe. “In this case we were successful because there were enough groups collaborating that we had the statistical power to see the effect.”

Although the research is significant, it won’t lead to a genetic test to screen for the disease, and treatments that result, if any, would be a long way off.

“Every piece of information we can obtain about a particular disease can help us understand it better, and therefore help us find new strategies to prevent or treat the disease,” said Kauwe, an assistant professor of biology.

Kauwe, whose collaborations with this research group began with his graduate and post-doctoral work at Washington University in St. Louis, will continue to collaborate with this and other research teams that tackle large studies of genetic variation and human disease.

His role in these large collaborative projects is to help analyze and interpret data that is collected at other sites.

“While BYU doesn’t have the resources to collect clinical information from thousands of human subjects, we have unique computational and intellectual resources that make us important partners in this research,” Kauwe said.

Photo by LDS Church Public Affairs