Washington University Alzheimer’s Study

Washington University Alzheimer’s Study

ST. LOUIS, MO/March 19, 2017 (STL.News) Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to effect one in every ten Americans, that is currently 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s.  Almost two- thirds of people affected by the disease are women.  Studies have shown that the number of people that develop Alzheimer’s is increasing and that about every 66 seconds someone in America develops the disease.  According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH) sufferers of Alzheimer’s first begin to show symptoms of memory loss and impaired judgement.  In the later stages, sufferers are unable to communicate or to care for themselves.  In the final stage Alzheimer’s patients’ bodies begin to shut down, showing signs of extreme weight loss, seizures, and skin infections. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning that it causes the death of brain cells.

Carlos Cruchaga, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, was recently awarded grants totaling $7 million from the National Institute of Aging (NIA), that has enabled a research team to further study Alzheimer’s disease.  Cruchaga and his team have focused on determining the affect genetics have on Alzheimer’s disease.  The team is taking two different approaches to answering the same question, “Why some people develop the disease and others don’t,” Cruchaga.  There is currently no known cure of Alzheimer’s, so the team is hoping to determine a way to identify people who are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

In one of the studies, Cruchaga and his group will compare genetic variations in a population based study. Biomarkers are signs of a disease that can be found at the molecular level.  Patients with Alzheimer’s have build-ups of two types of proteins: tau and amyloid beta.  By comparing many samples, the team hope to be able to identify people with an excess of these proteins and identify if it is a possible precursor to Alzheimer’s.

The other study will focus on families with multiple members that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  The team will work with 1,260 individuals from 345 families.  The genes of family members that have Alzheimer’s will be compared to the genes of individuals, within the same family, that do not have the disease.  By comparing family members, the team hopes to discover similar abnormalities that may be a precursor for individuals who may be at risk of developing the disease.

Going forward into the study, researchers are taking extra care to look at a protein called Apolipoprotein E (ApoE).  ApoE is known to be involved in regulating amyloid beta levels in the brain and is currently the largest known genetic factor in the development of Alzheimer’s.  Cruchaga and his team are trying to determine what other biomarkers can be used as a prodromal for the disease.  The long-term goal of the study is to be able to recognize individuals who are at risk and not only predict when they will most likely develop the disease, but also how quickly it will progress.  Cruchaga believes that there may already be drugs available that would be able to target factors in advance.  By targeting all of the pathways, the number of possible drugs that target genes that are known to be associated with Alzheimer’s, would increase greatly.


Bhandari, T. (2017, March 13). $7 million aimed at illuminating the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease.  Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/7-million-aimed-illuminating-genetics-alzheimers-disease/

List of NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices. (2017, February 08). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/list-nih-institutes-centers-offices

National Institute on Aging Home. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/