by Juliette Goodrich and Molly McCrea

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that slowly destroys your memory, how you think, talk and carry out life’s simplest tasks.

Now, scientists at San Francisco’s prestigious Gladstone Institutes may have found a fix for a major genetic risk factor linked to this devastating malady.

According to the researchers at Gladstone, people who have one copy of a gene called apolipoprotein E e4 — ApoE4 — are at more than twice the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. A person with two copies of the gene has 12 to 15 times the risk for eventually suffering from the degenerative disorder.

“It’s a very profound effect,” said Dr. Yadong Huang, senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes.

Scientists found that ApoE4 is only slightly different from the e3 version of the gene. However, the protein e4 produces within the body is much more damaging to human brain cells.

UCSF Alzheimer’s expert, Dr. Michael Weiner explained that ApoE4 is widespread.

“Sixty percent of people with Alzheimer’s Disease have the gene,” Dr. Weiner explained.

Dr. Weiner says that if you could get rid of that gene, “your risk would drop substantially.”

Dr. Huang and his team say they’ve been able to change the APOE e4 genes into the harmless e3 gene.

Huang made the breakthrough by experimenting on human stem cells instead of mice, which several Alzheimer’s researchers have done in the past.

“Many drugs work beautifully in a mouse model but so far they’ve all failed in clinical trials,” Huang said in a press release.

“One concern within the field has been how poorly these mouse models really mimic human disease.”

Using pluripotent stem cells — which can develop into any kind of cell in the body — the team was able to see the effect of reducing ApoE4 in brain cells for the first time. The Gladstone team has concluded that removing the ApoE4 protein from the body will cut off a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s in humans.

The team’s ApoE4 “structure correctors” reportedly restored normal function to the cells and wiped out any sign of the disease. The scientists are now working with the pharmaceutical industry in hopes of starting human testing in the near future.

“This is very encouraging,” said Dr. Huang.

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