An international team of scientists have identified two genetic variants associated with fronto-temporal dementia (FTD), a common form of early onset dementia. The study, published in Nature Genetics, could help in the search for new treatments to tackle the disease.
The study was lead by researchers based at the Centre for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, part of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, and involved collaborators from 11 countries including the UK, the US, Belgium and Spain.
The researchers collected DNA samples from more than 500 people with FTD and over 2,500 people without the condition. By comparing these DNA samples they were able to identify genetic differences between those with and without the condition.
'A gene causing fronto-temporal dementia in some families was identified for the first time last year' said Dr Susanne Sorenson, head of research at the UK's Alzheimer's Society.
Commenting on the research, she said: 'This is very exciting news as finding out what the proteins produced by these genes do could help us understand the processes that cause the condition, leading us closer to finding a treatment or even a cure.' With 'a million' people predicted to develop dementia over the next 10 years, this in an area of research which is 'desperately underfunded', she added.
Dr Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, UK, which contributed funding to the study, told the BBC she hopes the finding would boost research efforts into an extremely distressing disease that affects thousands of families in the UK.
FTD is the second most common form of early onset dementia, affecting more than 11,000 people across the UK. It causes progressive degeneration of areas at the front of the brain that play a critical role in behavioural control, language and emotions. As a result patients with FTD can show dramatic behavioural and personality changes, as well as language symptoms such as difficulty naming familiar objects. Most patients develop the condition before the age of 65. About half of all individuals with FTD have a family-history of the illness, suggesting that genetic factors may play a role.