06 November 2007

Cape gene test spots dementia

A new genetic test for heart disease also helps detect a predisposition to Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, says a press release from Cape Biotech/Genecare.

A new genetic test for heart disease also helps detect a predisposition to Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, says a press release from Cape Biotech/Genecare.

The molecular genetics company, Genecare, is the first to launch a genetic test in South Africa that links multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) with the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the press release said.

CVD comprises conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels such as stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and is estimated to kill at least one in five South African adults of all population groups each year.

One of the genetic mutations included in the test - the E4 allele of the apolipoprotein E (Apo E) gene – increases the risk of coronary heart disease by more than 40% and contributes to the development of late-onset Alzheimer’s in more than half of affected patients. The lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is approximately 15% for persons with no family history and increases to nearly 30% in gene carriers with at least one E4 allele - compared with less than 10% for those without this genetic alteration.

The initial research was funded by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and a licensing agreement was recently signed with the MRC to commercialise the CVD test internationally.

Can help avert illnesses
Explaining the significance of the test, Genecare’s Managing Director, Dr Maritha Kotze, says: “the Cardiovascular Genetic Screen can help avert potentially debilitating and life-threatening illnesses. The risk of developing these diseases is increased significantly by smoking, alcohol intake and unhealthy diets.

“This means that any individual found to have the E4 allele will be able to take preventative action by modifying their lifestyles or use the right medication to match their genes, thus empowering patients to take responsibility for their health,” she said.

Kotze says the test is a good risk management tool because it can identify the presence of disease-causing gene mutations before individuals start to experience symptoms. Studies performed on approximately 10 000 Americans over three decades showed that the same risk factors that lead to the development of CVD in middle age may significantly increase the risk of dementia in old age.

Dementia exploding in SA
“Because our population is ageing rapidly, we are seeing an increase in the prevalence of CVD, which affects one in three men and one in four women in SA before the age of 60. Increased rates of CVD and rising longevity are causing an explosion of dementia”.

Dr Frans Hugo, of Panorama Hospital, says: “it has been suggested that most patients with vascular dementia may actually have Alzheimer’s disease with prominent vascular risk factors and associated strokes. Research performed by doctors at Tygerberg and Stikland Hospitals has confirmed that much can be done to prevent dementia”.

Apart from the implications for Alzheimer’s disease, individuals with normal or raised serum cholesterol levels with or without other CVD risk factors (e.g. family history of CVD, hypertension, diabetes and/or obesity) will benefit from genetic testing, provided that this is accompanied by appropriate medical treatment or nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Diet is a key factor
Kotze says overwhelming evidence indicates that diet is a key environmental factor affecting the incidence of many chronic diseases treated by medical practitioners on a daily basis. “The key to disease prevention lies in a better understanding of gene-environment interactions underlying CVD and Alzheimer’s disease and effective intervention based on this knowledge.” – (Cape Biotech/Genecare)

Source: Press release from Cape Biotech/ Genecare

Visit our Genetics Centre for more information.

June 2006

For more information visit: Dementia SA: or Alzheimer’s South Africa:


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