Seeking Alzheimer’s clues from few who escape genetic fate

Video credit; AP News

The gene mutation that gave Alzheimer’s disease to his mother, brother and a lot of other relatives was inherited by Doug Whitney. They usually contracted the disease at age 50.

In a feature article published by The Associated Press, Lautan Neergaard writes that it appears Whitney is an exception because he is still healthy at 73 years old. Not only that, his mind is still sharp.

A woman in Columbia also escaped the Alzehimer inheritance.

Scientists believe these should allow them to learn how the body can naturally resist Alzheimer’s disease than seeing them as rare escapes.

Dr Eric McDade of Washington University, where Whitney’s DNA is being researched, said “It’s unique individuals oftentimes that really provide us with breakthroughs.”

If researchers could find out and copy the reasons for these escapes, they might develop better ways and even preventive therapies for everyone.

A neuropsychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Yakeel Quiroz, who helped study the Colombian woman said, “We are just learning about this approach to disease. One person can change the world -as in her case, how much we have learned from her.”

Quiroz’s team is familiar with what protected Aliria Piedrahita de Villegas. It was a strange genetic oddity which countered the damage from her family Alzheimer’s mutation. However, test results showed Whitney doesn’t have such a protective factor. Some other thing must be responsible for protecting his brain.

Scientists are looking for more escapees.

McDale, a researcher with a Washington network tracking 600 members of affected members of multiply affected families said, “They just think it’s kind of luck of the draw and it may in fact be that they are resilient.”
Whitney’s son, brian also inherited the family gene. However, he’s reached the age of 50 with no symptoms. But he knows that’s not a guarantee.

He said, “I liken my genetics to being a murder mystery. Our literal bodies of evidence are what they need to crack the case.” Brian is a volunteer for the University of Washington studies that include testing an experimental drug.

Over 6 million Americans and about 55 million worldwide have Alzheimer’s. It’s generally an old age disease, especially for those over 65.

Children of an affected person have a 50-50 chance of having it. If they do it’s most likely for them to get sick at the same age as their parent did.

Scientists can study families due to the near certainty. Studies have shown that silent changes occur in the brain at least two decades before the initial symptoms. This is a potential window to intervene. Sticky amyloid starts building up. It is followed by neuron-killing tau tangles.

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