ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – More than 6.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss is often the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But decades before people begin to fade away, their brain starts to show signs of changes. Breakthrough research looks at how one gene may be the key to early diagnosis.

Actor Chris Hemsworth is known in the movies as the indestructible Thor, but in real-life, even the strongest can be struck down by debilitating diseases.

Researchers believe the APOE gene is important in laying down myelin, which is a protein that insulates neurons in the brain.

Assistant Professor of Radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine, Brian Gordon, PhD explains, “If you happen to be lucky and get an E2 form of it, you have slight protection against Alzheimer’s disease. If you have this one that’s an E4 polymorphism, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease goes up about fourfold if you have one copy and about twelvefold if you have two copies of this gene.”

Researchers want to know what it is about this gene that’s leading to an elevated risk.

“The first domino that falls is this protein called amyloid begins building up in the brain. And this is a slow progression,” Professor Gordon adds.

You can see the progression of plaque over a decade. And by learning why some people are protected and some are not could lead to new treatments to stop the progression of the disease before any signs or symptoms appear.

The research also shows that there is a difference between men and women when it comes to how the APOE gene impacts them. For men, an APOE3 gene and APOE4 gene didn’t have a huge effect on their symptoms, while in women, it did. That may be the reason researchers believe men seem to show signs sooner, and although women’s symptoms may appear later, the symptoms seem to strike stronger and women decline faster.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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