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Surprising Science

Protein Found to Protect Against Alzheimer’s

A rare mutation on a gene long associated with Alzheimer’s seems to prevent the disease from forming. Scientists want to make a drug that mimics the specific mutation.

What’s the Latest Development?

In a study of 1,795 Icelanders and 400,000 more Scandinavians, scientists have found a genetic mutation whose presence helps protect against contracting Alzheimer’s disease. “The mutation—the first ever found to protect against the disease—lies in a gene that produces amyloid-β precursor protein (APP), which has an unknown role in the brain and has long been suspected to be at the heart of Alzheimer’s.” The mutation seems to slow milder mental deterioration that occurs naturally with age. “Carriers [of the mutation] are about 7.5 times more likely than non-carriers to reach the age of 85 without suffering major cognitive decline, such as memory loss.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The mutated gene is rare but it has a huge impact on those fortunate enough to inherit even a single copy of it. “About 0.5% of Icelanders are carriers, as are 0.2–0.5% of Finns, Swedes and Norwegians. Compared with their countrymen who lack the mutation, Icelanders who carry it are more than five times more likely to reach 85 without being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They also live longer, with a 50% better chance of celebrating their 85th birthday.” Were scientists able to develop a drug that mimics the effects of the mutation, it would have the ability to slow more common mental decline and to prevent Alzheimer’s. 

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