Alzheimer's disease

UM Study Identifies Risk Factors of Alzheimer's Among African Americans

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More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. There’s no cure, but researchers at the University of Miami are working to find out more about why it happens.

This week, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology (JAMA) from genetic researchers at UM’s Hussman Institute for Human Genomics have identified new gene risks for the disease among African Americans.

NBC 6 anchor Sheli Muñiz spoke to one of the researchers, Dr. Brian Kunkle, a genetic epidemiologist with the Hussman Institute at UM. 

The University of Miami researchers studied more than 8,000 African Americans. Some had Alzheimer’s, others didn’t. The study significantly increased the number of participants, allowing researchers to identify several new genetic risk factors.

“These novel risk factors confirm immunity and lipid processing as important processes and implicate neuronal transport and processing pathways. Finding these new genes and the biological functions (pathways) they control provides for greater insights into the causes of Alzheimer’s and allows for their targeting by clinicians with therapeutic interventions in the future,” said the University of Miami release.

“As a background, we know that certain genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease differ based on a person’s genetic ancestry,” said Kunkle. “What we found in this study was that while there are shared risk factors among African Americans and other populations, we also found genetic risk factors that are specific to African Americans and people with African American ancestry.”

Kunkle says this information allows doctors to understand the biology behind Alzheimer’s better but also develop therapies that work for everyone.

Researchers say they are looking for more participation from African Americans as well as all populations for continued studies. Kunkle said what’s also important is the environmental exposures that also contribute to the irreversible disease over the course of a person’s lifetime, i.e. diet and access to health care.

For more information, or to participate in the African American Alzheimer’s disease study, please contact the study’s coordinator, Faina Lacroix, for the African American Alzheimer Disease Initiative at (305) 243-1981 or Languages available are English, French and Haitian Creole.

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