How An­gelina’s breast cancer gene could help us to fight Alzheimer’s

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Fiona MacRae Sci­ence Edi­tor f.macrae@dai­ly­

THE breast cancer gene that An­gelina Jolie found she car­ries may hold the key to beat­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease, sci­en­tists say.

They have re­vealed that men and women who have died from the most com­mon form of de­men­tia have lower than usual amounts of a pro­tein known as BrCA1 in their brains.

This pro­tein – and the gene that makes it – is more usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with breast and ovar­ian can­cers.

Women who, like Hol­ly­wood Alis­ter Miss Jolie, carry a flawed ver­sion of the gene strug­gle to make enough of the pro­tein.

This leaves them much more likely than usual to de­velop the can­cers. Miss Jolie, 40, chose to have both breasts re­moved af­ter she dis­cov­ered that her DNA meant she had an 87 per cent chance of de­vel­op­ing breast cancer – eight times the av­er­age for a woman.

Now re­search in America has linked low lev­els of the BrCA1 pro­tein with de­men­tia. This sug- gests that the pro­tein helps to keep the brain healthy – and that a drug which re­stores its lev­els to nor­mal could halt, and even pre­vent, Alzheimer’s.

More than 500,000 Bri­tons have the con­di­tion but ex­ist­ing drugs pro­vide only tem­po­rary re­lief. The con­di­tion soon takes its dev­as­tat­ing course, rob­bing peo­ple of their speech, mem­ory and dig­nity.

When sci­en­tists at the Glad­stone In­sti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­ease in San fran­cisco ex­am­ined the brains of peo­ple who had died with Alzheimer’s, they found lev­els of the BrCA1 pro­tein were up to 75 per cent lower than nor­mal.

They also showed that amy­loid beta, a com­pound known to clog up the brain in Alzheimer’s suf- fer­ers, seemed to be be­hind the drop. Their se­ries of ex­per­i­ments in mice con­firmed its im­por­tance to brain health.

When the mice were low in the pro­tein, their brain cells, or neu­rons, shrank.

Mem­ory and learn­ing games car­ried out af­ter­wards proved to be more dif­fi­cult than be­fore.

The sci­en­tists are now look­ing at whether rais­ing BrCA1 lev­els in mice can re­verse or even pre­vent such prob­lems.

Dr Len­nart Mucke, the study’s se­nior au­thor, said: ‘Ther­a­peu­tic ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­pair fac­tors such as BrCA1 may ul­ti­mately be used to pre­vent neu­ronal dam­age and cog­ni­tive de­cline in pa­tients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease or in peo­ple at risk of the dis­ease.

‘By nor­mal­is­ing the lev­els or func­tion of BrCA1, it may be pos­si­ble to pro­tect neu­rons from ex­ces­sive DNA dam­age and pre­vent the many detri­men­tal pro­cesses it can set in mo­tion.’

‘Pre­vent brain dam­age’

An­gelina Jolie: Flawed gene

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