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Professor John Hardy

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Professor John Hardy is a renowned geneticist at the IoN’s Department of Molecular Neuroscience. He has recently been recognised for his exceptional contribution to science with his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society.

In 1991, John Hardy and fellow research scientist Martin Rosser pioneered work into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered mutations in genes that make a protein called amyloid. These mutations cause amyloid plaque to build up in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Professor Hardy has since held senior posts in the US, but returned to the UK in 2007 to continue his investigation into genes that are related to the development of Alzheimer’s.

His team identified the very first gene that can cause early onset of the disease. People with these genes are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s well before the age of 65.

Now Professor Hardy and his team hope to make a similar breakthrough in the study of late onset Alzheimer’s. He describes their research below:

"We would like to discover the genetic risk factors for late onset Alzheimer ’s disease. It would help us break the disease into different sub-types. This is important because ultimately each sub-type might respond to different forms of treatment and different regimes of prevention.

We suspect a rich interplay between genetic and environmental factors. One can draw a good parallel with some forms of heart disease. Some people have a predisposition to the condition because they can't metabolise cholesterol very well and have too much fat in their diet.

We do get worse at metabolising the amyloid protein as we get older, so if we have a mutation in the amyloid gene responsible for making it, that might be enough to push us over the edge.

When we found the amyloid mutation- in effect a change in the amino acid sequence of the amyloid protein- we believed this was a critical risk factor. What we discovered from our later genetic work was that the sequence itself was not important. There was no qualitative cause. But there was a quantitative one. It is simply the amount of amyloid protein expressed that is associated with the disease.

The Brain Research Trust is funding our investigation. The results so far, for the money invested, have been remarkable for their value and for the speed with which they were achieved."