Study Finds New Genetic Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease in Blacks

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Black Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer’s but have been underrepresented in genetic research about the disease.
Until recently, researchers thought that when genes are linked to Alzheimer’s in whites, that finding could be extrapolated to other groups, says Christiane Reitz, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and of epidemiology at Mailman School of Public Health.
“And so, there was little conscious effort to make sure that Black, Hispanic, or Asian Americans, were adequately represented in genome-wide association studies.”
But it has become clear, she says, “that there are genetic variations in the disease from group to group and that these studies need to be more inclusive.”
Reitz was one of the first researchers to look for the genetic factors that raise the risk of Alzheimer’s in Blacks, and her most recent study—conducted with colleagues Margaret Pericak-Vance, PhD, and Brian Kunkle, PhD, at the University of Miami on behalf of the Alzheimer Disease Genetics Consortium—is the largest such study to date.
CUIMC News recently spoke with Reitz about the importance of the findings.

Why are Blacks twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to whites?
We’re not certain. We know that Blacks have higher rates of vascular disease, such as diabetes, stroke, and hypertension, which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s. But that’s not the whole story. Genetics also plays a role, which we’re just beginning to understand. …

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