Two interesting new research pieces came out this past week or so on aging and dementia.
First, this piece about a gene which is found more often in folks who live 100 years, suggesting that people with the val-val variant of the CETP gene (cholesteryl ester transfer protein) may have a better shot at living a longer life. Centenarians with this genetic variant were also five times less likely to have dementia. The gene, found on Chromosome 16 (OMIM), produces a protein involved in lipid metabolism which results in larger, less sticky, cholesterol particles. The article came out in today's Neurology.
I looked in PubMed for similar articles from this author (Barzilai) and found this April 2006 article in PLoS Biology looking at several longevity-related genes in this same population. This article describes two genes which are more prevelant in really old people: the val/val (also known as I405V) variant of CETP and the -641C variant of the APOC3 gene (another one that deals with lipids).
Here's what's really cool. This guy has gathered this big group of centenarians and is doing genome-wide scans to determine which genes may be associated with longer (and healthier) lives. This work comes out of Albert Einstein's Institute for Aging Research.
The second item is the NEJM article, from Gary Small at the UCLA Center on Aging, which showed that a molecule (FDDNP) binds to the amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles which are characteristic for Alzheimer's disease. After an injection of this experimental tracer chemical, a PET scan can then show where this stuff is in the brain. If there's enough of it, and in the right places, chances are good that you have (or are developing) Alzheimer's dementia.
This is just a research tool, at the moment. Neither this imaging tool, nor the above genetic tests, can be used clinically in the assessment of dementia risk or diagnosis. Maybe one day.
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