Dementia research in 2014: looking back at our proudest achievements

2014 has been a year of huge strides in research and we want to share some of these successes with you. Our researchers are working tirelessly to uncover clues about how to diagnose, treat and prevent dementia. The steps they took in 2014 mean that these breakthroughs are ever closer.

Read more at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Alzheimer’s Brains Mottled with Epigenetic Changes

Epigenetic modifications control gene expression, but scientists still don’t know if or how they contribute to disease. To address this knowledge gap, the National Institutes of Health launched the Roadmap Epigenomics Project in 2008 to compare epigenomes in healthy and diseased cells. In the August 17 Nature Neuroscience, two papers from separate but collaborative research groups report on some of the fruits of that effort. Both groups surveyed DNA methylation in hundreds of human AD and control brains and identified several regions where changes in this epigenetic mark correlated with the amount of Alzheimer’s pathology. The results may help flag genes that are turned up or down in AD, and provide insight into pathogenesis, said Philip De Jager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, the first author of one of the papers. Some of this data was previously presented at the 2012 Society for Neuroscience conference (see Nov 2012 conference story).

“For perhaps the first time, our papers find robust evidence for epigenetic changes in the brains of people with AD,” said Jonathan Mill at King’s College London, who led the other study. Notably, the two groups obtained largely overlapping sets of genes, although they used different cohorts and methods. De Jager told Alzforum, “To my understanding, this is the first time that two independent epigenetic studies have cross-replicated each other. It validates this approach to studying Alzheimer’s and brain diseases in general.”

Read more at AlzForum.

Hints of Epigenetic Role in Alzheimer’s Disease

Brain tissue has yielded the first evidence of an association between Alzheimer’s disease and changes in the way some genes function. But it is not yet clear if the changes lead to the disease or occur as a result of it – or are simply a natural part of ageing.

There is already some evidence that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s rises with poor diet, a lack of exercise and inflammatory conditions such as diabetes. Two independent teams, one in the UK and one in the US, now suggest that these factors can raise the risk by triggering epigenetic changes. Such changes – which may also be brought about by stress – don’t alter the sequence of DNA that someone has inherited. Instead, they affect how genes function. Epigenetic changes have previously been linked to cancer and mental disorders.

Read more at New Scientist.

University of Exeter in pioneering dementia study

A team of scientists led by researchers at an Exeter university have published a groundbreaking new dementia study.

More than 26 million people are currently affected by Alzheimer’s disease worldwide – a number experts believe is likely to increase as the ageing population continues to grow.

Much has already been learnt about how the disease affects the brain, including that some parts of the organ are more susceptible to it than others, but little is known about how and why this is the case.

However, a new study headed by Professor Jonathan Mill of University of Exeter Medical School has uncovered new evidence to suggest that epigenetic changes – processes which affect the expression of genetic material – could be the mechanisms responsible.

Read more at Exeter Express & Echo.