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FAQ: New Alzheimer's Gene

Researcher Answers Questions About the Newly Discovered Alzheimer's Genetic Risk Factor, CALHM1

Can you explain how you identified CALHM1?

We used a computer-based approach. ... This approach focused on the identification of genes that are specifically expressed, specifically working in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a small region of the brain critical for memory formation and memory retention. What we know from the histopathology of the disease -- analysis of the disease progression in the brain -- we know that this region is affected very early during the course of the disease.

Right now, if you look at the literature, you have a lot of candidates for susceptibility for Alzheimer's disease. There is an urgent need to narrow down the number of candidates, and by using this computer approach, we were able to narrow down the list to a few candidates, and one of them was the one we recently published, this calcium channel. And we have six more candidates that we're currently investigating, and we are hoping that one of these candidates will be also significantly associated with the disease so we can get a better understanding of the overall genetic susceptibility for the disease.

Do you think that people understand risk?

I think they do. The only problem is related to the numbers. When we say this specific risk factor or this specific diet will increase your risk for cancer or diabetes fivefold, this is extremely striking. You don't want to do that, you don't want to follow this specific diet or to have this specific gene in your DNA. But when the risk is relatively small, like in all these genetic risk factors that are currently published for cancer, for diabetes, for heart disease, it is very difficult to apprehend and to understand for the general public.

But for us, it's not only a way to narrow down the number of individuals that are really at risk. [When] a very efficient treatment [is developed], it will be an extremely valuable tool for the physician to help understand [which] patients that are at risk or not and should take this preventive medicine.

What else would you like to add?

It's a great opportunity, with the identification of CALHM1, to work on new avenues. We have a new target. We want to very aggressively understand what this protein is doing for the disease, and we want to move very quickly to the identification of drugs that may modulate this target in such a way that we can improve the pathology.

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