Predicting Alzheimer's

  • By Laura Helft
  • Posted 04.07.16
  • NOVA

Can we predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease? Some genes influence whether or not a person will develop this form of dementia.


Running Time: 02:36


Narrator: Alzheimer’s strikes hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Could we somehow predict who is most at risk and prevent the disease from striking?

Greg O’Brien was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. His disease is likely the result of multiple causes, including genetics.

Greg O'Brien: “One of the doctors told me that it's like the old legal scales. If your mother dies of Alzheimer's, the scale goes down. You have a serious head injury, the scale goes down. You're carrying the gene APO E-4, which is a marker gene for Alzheimer's, and at that point the doctors say, 'you're not gettin' out of it.'"

Narrator: One out of every ten people have a copy of APO E-4, a mutated version of the gene APO E. APO E-4 significantly increases your chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

Rudolph Tanzi: "APO E-4 doesn't guarantee you'll get the disease. But, we do know that one copy of E-4 from one parent, increases your risk about three-fold. And if both parents give you an APO E-4, your risk is increased by over twelve-fold."

Narrator: Eric Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute has been imaging the brains of people who have at least one copy of APO E-4, he’s looking for abnormalities.

Eric Reiman: “And we began detecting and tracking these different brain changes in people with two or one copy of the APO E-4 gene.”

Narrator: Even though they don’t yet have symptoms of dementia, the brains of people with APO E-4 have the protein clumps, seen here in blue, that precede development of Alzheimer’s.

Eric Reiman: “What if we could start studying people with two, one, or no copies of the APO E-4 gene and set the stage to do two-year prevention trials.”

Narrator: Reiman is part of a team preparing to launch a new study. It will test whether a drug can slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in people with APO E-4.

Eric Reiman: “The point to begin with prevention trials is around here. And we will be doing that in a prevention trial of people two copies of the APO E-4 gene.”

Narrator: Gene variants like APO E-4 give doctors a way to identify individuals at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and treating them before they ever develop symptoms.

Eric Reiman: “We think there’s a chance to do that, and we think there’s chance to do that in the next decade.”



Salvatore Vecchio
Original Footage from Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?
Written, Produced & Directed by
Sarah Holt/dd>
Producer and Writer
Laura Helft/dd>
William A. Anderson/dd>
Line Producer
Heather Forbes/dd>
Associate Producer
Laura Schebler Rammelsberg/dd>
Post Production Supervisor
Arjun Rao/dd>
Assistant Editors
Penny Hollis
Michael Quartulli/dd>
Color Correct and Audio Mix
Henninger Media Services/dd>
Editorial Advisors
Laura Bonetta
Dennis Liu/dd>
Music by
New West Studios, Inc./dd>
Archival Image Courtesy Of
Eric M. Reiman, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute/dd>
© 2016 Tangled Bank Studios, LLC
All rights reserved/dd>


(main image: TK)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2016

Related Links