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New Clues to Early Onset Alzheimer's

Too much plaque-building protein produced in people with certain genes, study finds

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"It's an earlier way to identify the first associations of Alzheimer's," she said. "It appears looking at the spinal fluid may be the first way to diagnose this disease."

Even though the research focused on a genetic abnormality faced by a very small percentage of early onset Alzheimer's patients, its new insights into the way amyloid beta is produced and exchanged in the body will help investigations into both early and late onset forms of the disease, said Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer's Association.

"The disease pathology is almost identical, when you look at early Alzheimer's compared with the more common sporadic forms of Alzheimer's," Hartley said. "The plaques and tangles that form are nearly identical."

The study also identifies amyloid beta 42 as a potential target for future drug trials, he added.

"One of the reasons we've not made a shot on goal for clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease is we need to understand more about the disease mechanism for Alzheimer's," he said. "There actually have been trials to look at drugs that inhibit [the enzyme that causes the formation of amyloid beta]. They have failed because this particular enzyme doesn't just work on beta amyloid but on other proteins in the body as well. It wasn't really a target-specific drug.

"We're not that far away from clinical trials," Hartley continued. "The question is whether this target is going to turn out to be a safe target."

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