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BUSM researchers find link in DNA connecting cataracts to Alzheimer’s

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health identified a gene connecting age-related cataracts to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Sept. 11 press release.

“Investigators looked at brain MRI findings on or after 10 years from the original eye exam and concluded that there was a significant correlation between a quantitative measure of cortical cataract and several Alzheimer’s disease-related measures of brain degeneration,” the release stated.

According to the release, patients studied with cataracts demonstrated lower cognitive ability.

“Another strong correlation in these same individuals, between cortical-cataract formation and poorer performance on several cognitive tests administered at the time of the MRI scan, further supports this link,” the report stated.

Researchers then performed a genome study looking at DNA sequence variations and found a genetic link between cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease.

Since this correlation exists, cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease “may share common etiologic factors,” the release stated.

Dr. Gyungah Jun, research assistant professor in the departments of biomedical genetics, ophthalmology and biostatistics, was the study’s lead author. Dr. Lindsay Farrer, the chief of biomedical genetics at BUSM, was the study’s senior author.

“Though much work remains to be done, a link between cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease supports the idea of a systemic rather than brain-limited focus for processes leading to Alzheimer’s disease,” Farrer said in the release.

The study may be a first step toward earlier diagnosis and new treatments for patients of Alzheimer’s disease, Farrer said in the release.

“This study gives hope that we are moving toward earlier diagnosis and new treatment targets for this debilitating disease,” he said.

Alzheimer’s Disease affects about 5.4 million Americans and one in eight older people, including a projected 120,000 in Massachusetts, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients are older than 65.

The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and mortality rates from the disease rose 66 percent from 2000 to 2008, according to statistics provided by Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia that leads to memory loss and behavioral problems before eventually causing death. The disease worsens as it progresses and no known methods exist for reversing the decay.

BU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center helped to fund the project.

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