Local scientists help discover new genes to identify risk for Alzheimer's

International collaboration could further help people see if they're at risk

SAN ANTONIO – It's an unprecedented project.

The largest Alzheimer's study in the world involved scientists at University of Texas Health San Antonio.

The study, just published in Februrary, reports the discovery of five new genes that increase Alzheimer's risk.

"Together we are stronger. Together we are likely to find answers," said UT Health San Antonio's Dr. Sudha Seshadri, who founded the university's Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

It's that attitude that brought together four prestigious Alzheimer's research groups from around the world to create the International Genomics of Alzheimer's Project.

Seshadri leads one of those groups through the Glenn Biggs Institute.

Joining other researchers from around the U.S., France and the U.K/ brought in a record-breaking number of study participants.

"Most recently, we were able to have nearly 100,000 people. About 94,000, and that size enabled us to find five new genes," Seshadri said.

The new study adds five more genes to an important list that can show people they're at risk for Alzheimer's disease.

"Each new biological insight is one more chance at finding an effective drug target and effective drug treatment," Seshadri said.

The genes offer more posiibilities for an eventual cure, but they also help on the prevention side.

Patients who do genetic testing and learn they are at risk for Alzheimer's disease can then participate in preventive clinical trials or, at the very least, make lifestyle changes that help preserve brain activity.

"Broadly, what is good for the heart is good for the brain. So controlling blood pressure, exercise and staying cognitively and socially engaged. Continuing to do what you love, and that seems to delay the onset of disease," Seshadri said.

Seshadri hopes to eventually help create medicine for Alzheimer's patients but said to get there, scientiests will have to work together.

"It becomes imperative that we collaborate internationally if you're going to find these answers. You find this wide range of ideas and talent. It's such a pleasure," she said.

She called it a growing army fighting the same enemy: the disease itself.

This enormous project was greatly funded by the National Institutes of Health, among other prestigious agencies, enabling the International Genomics of Alzheimer's Project to continue.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.