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Scientists suspect a gene for Alzheimer's disease

Harvard researchers announce possible link

July 13, 2000
Web posted at: 6:13 p.m. EDT (2213 GMT)

(CNN) -- The discovery of a possible genetic link to Alzheimer's disease could lead to more and better treatments for the devastating illness, scientists say.

Geneticists at Harvard Medical School have announced that studies on 500 families with multiple Alzheimer's patients have brought them closer to just such a discovery. Researchers told the World Alzheimer's Congress that they suspect an Alzheimer's gene may be located on Chromosome 10.

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    "Inevitably, a race will begin around the world to identify this gene," said Harvard's Rudolph Tanzi. "So if we don't identify it, someone will."

    Rose Anne Rivkin-Schulman knows the power of such a gene first hand. Her father, Lewis Rivkin, has the disease, as did her grandfather.

    "I do worry what is to become of us," she said. "I can see it might happen in our generation."

    Her father is often lost in his own world, Rivkin-Schulman said, adding "He knows he's here, but he doesn't quite know where here is."

    Trials with a new drug, memantine, have shown promise in later-stage Alzheimer's patients, researchers have reported this week. Those who took the drug were better able to dress, bathe and perform other self-care tasks.

    About 12 million people, including 4 million in the United States, have Alzheimer's, according to the latest estimates. The debilitating brain disease influences the lives of millions of other people, particularly family members of patients.

    People with Alzheimer's develop plaques and tangles in the brain, which eventually kill nerve cells, causing dementia and other problems. It is hoped that true identification of an Alzheimer's gene or genes could lead to even more effective drugs. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Meyers-Squibb is now testing a drug based on genetic research.

    Any new treatment will probably be too late for Lewis Rivkin.

    But his daughter may be able to benefit. "He doesn't know who we are at times," she lamented. "He doesn't know who he is at times."



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