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BOLOGNA, Italy — Data from a new study by scientists in Italy could help physicians calculate patients’ risks for Alzheimer’s disease and heart attacks. Researchers at the University of Bologna said they found a common genetic link between heart attacks and Alzheimer’s, according to results of a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers examined the DNA of 1,800 people, including 280 who had experienced heart attacks, 257 with Alzheimer’s and a control group of 1,307 healthy people. Organizing participants into six groups — with groups one through three classified as low risk, and groups four through six classified as high risk — the researchers focused on groups four and six, which were classified as having a high risk of suffering heart attacks and developing Alzheimer’s. These two groups had shown a common genetic predisposition for both diseases, and the researchers found the predisposition in 30% of heart attack sufferers and 40% of those with Alzheimer’s.
“Until now, we only knew about individual genes linked to both diseases, and this was not sufficient to develop an individual test for the risk,” University of Bologna immunologist and lead study author Federico Licastro stated. “However, we have now been able to identify a genetic profile of several genes partially common to both diseases. This is the leap in quality that now enables us to conduct a test and assess a profile partially specific to both diseases.”
The researchers conceded that one of the techniques used could be controversial. To study participants’ DNA, they used a statistical method known as grade of membership analysis. While it has been applied to such diseases as mental disorders and cancers, the international scientific community still is debating its use. “However, it is only by using such statistical analyses that such diseases can be tested, conducting tests on only a few hundred cases,” Licastro said. “Classical statistics would require us to test 10, 12 or even 20 or 30 thousand cases.”