Scientists may have found gene variants that make it far more likely that someone who is African-American will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study utilized one of the largest gene databases available to help identify the variants.
As noted by the Grio at NBC News, researchers have known for years that the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease for African-Americans is twice that of other racial or ethnic groups. This is the first time that scientists have been able to pinpoint what they now believe are some of the root causes behind this increased risk, however.
Here is some of the key information that emerged on Tuesday from this new study into the genetic risk factors of Alzheimer's disease.
* Reuters reported that the study took information from a database of some 6,000 African-American adults that had participated in research conducted at any one of the National Institutes of Health's 18 Alzheimer's Disease Centers. Of those 6,000 individuals, 2,000 of them had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
* The study specifically looked at the risk factors for developing what is referred to as "late-onset" Alzheimer's disease, which occurs after the age of 60. According to the NIH's National Institute on Aging, the same gene identified in Tuesday's study in JAMA, apolipoprotein E (APOE), has been previously pinpointed in other studies as holding a piece of the puzzle as well.
* The National Institute on Aging has also pointed out, however, that researchers believe that other factors, such as heart disease and stroke, may also hold keys to a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
* Robert L. Nussbaum, MD, who wrote an editorial accompanying the JAMA study published on Tuesday, pointed out the same thing in his piece on the subject. Nussbaum noted that while genetic factors, and particular genes, do appear to significantly affect a person's risk of developing the disease, there are many people that have those genetic risk factors that do not go on to develop the disease as well.
* In African-Americans, researchers found that it appeared that possessing a variant of the APOE gene, known as APOE-e4, was linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease later in life -- the same as it is in other racial and ethnic groups. However, scientists also found a secondary gene, ABCA7, whose presence appeared to cause a 70 to 80 percent increase in the risk that an African-American individual would go on to develop Alzheimer's disease, as noted by Reuters.
* In whites, the presence of ABCA7 only increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 10 to 20 percent. Dr. Christiane Rietz, who was part of the JAMA study, told Reuters on Tuesday that it was obvious that the presence of ABCA7 is "a pathway" to developing Alzheimer's disease, although the presence of APOE-e4 is still a larger indicator of a person's overall risk.Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
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