Genetic Research for Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is somewhat of a misnomer. Rather than a uniform disease, it’s probably a series of related diseases that arise when something goes wrong with a patient’s genetic code. To cure or slow it, scientists need to figure out which genes put people at risk – or protect them. In most dementias, there’s not one culprit gene, but several genes with subtle variations that conspire together.
Add to that questions about the role of the environment, a patient’s immune system, diet and lifestyle choices, and it’s clear there is no simple solution. “There is not going to be one drug to get rid of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Tatiana Foroud, chair of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics.
Gene Sequencing with Super Computers
While complicated, technology is helping researchers make sense of the illness. Today’s sequencing capabilities allow scientists to study every single position along an individual’s DNA to identify and evaluate changes that might have led to Alzheimer’s disease.
Indiana University School of Medicine’s supercomputing facilities come into play when Alzheimer’s disease investigators integrate complex and rich data sets. Researchers throughout the state are collaborating to generate better models of brain connectivity (the “connectome”) and relate these models to genetics.
Biomarkers help physicians and scientists focused on Alzheimer’s disease understand if patients have underlying neurodegeneration or signs of dementia triggered by some other reason. By establishing new immune biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists hope to use existing Alzheimer’s biomarkers to better predict onset and progression of the disease.
For patients headed for Alzheimer’s disease, that could lead to earlier and more effective interventions.
We have tremendous amounts of multimodal imaging and genetic data. Right now the great challenge is having the right informatics strategy. We’re connecting the dots.
Andrew J. Saykin, PSYD