What if there was a way to genetically prevent the development of certain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease? According to Medical XPress, this might soon be an option on the horizon. A research team from Laval University in Quebec recently shared their paper on gene editing as a potential preventative measure against Alzheimer’s disease. By editing genes in nerve cells, the researchers share the possibility of reducing beta-amyloid accumulation and thus reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Check out the full research published in bioRxiv.
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, genome editing, or gene editing, can:
enable scientists to make changes to DNA, leading to changes in physical traits, like eye color, and disease risk. [Gene editing] technologies act like scissors, cutting the DNA at a specific spot, [so] scientists can remove, add, or replace the DNA where it was cut.
While the first gene editing technologies appeared during the late 20th century, there have been huge improvements from 2000 and beyond. For example, the CRISPR gene editing tool appeared in 2009!
In this case, researchers wanted to examine a potential factor in Alzheimer’s disease development: a protein called beta-amyloid. The over-accumulation of this protein on brain cells can be toxic. However, research has shown that people with a A673T gene mutation are 4x less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than others. Researchers wondered if, through gene editing, they could alter human brain cells to give people A673T and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
First, they used CRISPR and found it to be decently successful. However, researchers experienced some difficulty with this tool. As a result, they later tried prime editing, which directly alters one DNA base letter to another. Through this, they successfully edited 40% of in vitro brain cells. While this information is not enough to either prevent Alzheimer’s or inhibit beta-amyloid accumulation, the research team called for further research. Additionally, this type of technique would most likely only be effective in cases of early diagnosis when beta-amyloid has not yet built up.
While researchers do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, many believe it relates to genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. This progressive condition causes neuronal degeneration as neurons disconnect and brain cells die. Some research has linked protein plaques and tangles to the development of this condition. Risk factors include older age, a family history, poor sleeping and exercise patterns, head trauma, and being female. Symptoms include:
- Significant memory loss
- Difficulty thinking, reasoning, and making decisions
- Changes in mood and behavior, such as aggression, irritability, or apathy
- Appetite loss
- Inability to carry out everyday tasks
- Language repetition
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.