Over the past few years scientists and researchers have made some inroads in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, but as yet no definitive cure has been found. In the latest promising development, a team of Canadian researchers has identified a genetic variant that can delay the onset of the disease by up to four years.

Alzheimer’s has been the focus of a great deal of research in the past few years. Scientists have identified genetic markers through advanced blood tests, discovered proteins complicit in the onset of the disease, investigated lasers that could potentially remove proteins that affect neurological processes and recently, a study by the University of California showed that the disease could be successfully halted, and even reversed, in mice. But while many of these developments are promising in the long run, the need to delay the diseases onset is considered crucial in the interim.

The Canadian research team, led by Judes Poirier, PhD, C.Q., from the Douglas Mental Health Institute and McGill University in Montréal, conducted a study on an extensive scale in which they found natural genetic variants that provided protection against the most common form of Alzheimer's.

"We found that specific genetic variants in a gene called HMG CoA reductase, which normally regulates the production and mobilization of cholesterol in the brain, could change the process and delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by almost four years,” says Poirier. “This is a remarkable breakthrough in an area where research has been rarely successful in recent years.”

The ultimate goal for Dr. Poirier and his team is to take this newfound information and identify specific biological processes that respond positively to pharmaceutical treatments. But while the team believes this is an important breakthrough against Alzheimer’s, they note the importance of adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle to help assist the body in slowing the onset of the disease.

As someone who has experienced firsthand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s on a family member, it is my hope that this latest development leads to a long term solution that can delay, or even halt its onset indefinitely. The news will certainly be welcomed by those millions of people genetically predisposed to the disease.

Dr. Poirier and his team presented their findings at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen this month.