The ABCA7 gene is involved in the metabolism of fats, or lipids. It is associated with another gene called apolipoprotein E 4, or APOE4. Pericak-Vance was the first researcher to identify APOE4 as a risk variant in Alzheimer’s disease in 1993 while at Duke University.
The APOE4 gene accounts for more than 40 percent of all cases of Alzheimer’s, and remains the largest overall risk factor for the disease, according to UM researchers.
Because both the APOE4 and the ABCA7 genes are involved in lipid metabolism, researchers now know that the process is an important pathway of late-onset Alzheimer’s in African Americans, Goldschmidt said.
“It’s a huge deal,’’ he said of the gene discovery and its implications.
Currently, there are few treatments or drugs for Alzheimer’s, an irreversible brain disease that destroys memory and thinking. Some drugs may slow the disease’s progress, but they do not change the underlying process.
Pericak-Vance said the disease is “becoming an epidemic.’’
The National Institutes of Health estimates that Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 5 million people in the United States.
One of them is George Murray, 88, of Miami Gardens, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009, said his daughter, Shirley Gibson.
While the disease has taken a toll on Murray’s mind, Gibson, 69, said it can be harder on the caregivers. Gibson said her sister, Linda Mobley, 57, cares for Murray full-time.
“It’s a difficult disease to care for a loved one because, of course, they change,’’ she said. “You see a totally different person. And at some point, they don’t know you.’’
Gibson, the former mayor of Miami Gardens, said she gave a blood sample to UM researchers for the study that led to the discovery of the ABCA7 gene because she hopes the finding will lead to better medical care for African Americans.
“Seeing my father,’’ she said, “I wanted to participate, and I realized that not having our DNA in the studies is a major catalyst to not being able to get the kind of medicine, and to know what may be a cure for us or a treatment plan for African Americans, and how it should be different from some other group.’’