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Research helps explain why more women have Alzheimer’s than menposted on June 15, 2012 - 11:52 am
More than two-thirds of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. One reason for this, we believed, is because women live longer than men. But now researchers at Stanford University know there’s something else going on. They found women carrying a gene variant linked to Alzheimer’s are more likely to have two hallmarks of the disease than men carrying that same gene.
The gene is called ApoE4. When someone has two copies of this gene, one from each parent, they are at an extremely high risk for the disease. That’s true for men and women. But luckily, only about two percent of the U.S. population has this double-barreled combination. About 15 percent of the population carries one copy.
Researchers examined medical records of 91 people carrying one copy of ApoE4. The women showed two common indicators of Alzheimer’s disease; a signature change in brain activity and elevated levels of Tau protein. The men did not. This is a very significant discovery, the first time ever that researchers have detected a gender-related risk for Alzheimer’s. It is good news for men, and also a big step forward toward understanding what causes this disease.
There are actually three versions of the Apo gene; ApoE2, E3 and E4. It creates a protein that helps transport cholesterol to cells, vital for healthy cell membranes. Scientists have been trying to find out why E4 seems to create a defective protein and now, they will also be trying to determine how it works differently in women. Read more
There are a number of other ground breaking studies underway, primarily focused on people who are in the very small high-risk group for Alzheimer’s. Scientists believe that by studying this group, they’ll one day be able to develop a drug for people who test positive for the disease but aren’t showing any symptoms. You can read more about these efforts in The New York Times.
With each new breakthrough we are one step towards understanding this puzzling disease. Currently there are no drugs to slow the advance of Alzheimer’s for more than a few months, and no cure. The New York Times reports that Alzheimer’s researchers think a real treatment can be developed within the decade. This is surely encouraging news!