BRCA1 gene carried by Angelina Jolie may play role in Alzheimer’s disease

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A protein in the BRCA1 gene linked to breast and ovarian cancer has become well known by Hollywood celebrities such as Angelina Jolie. But what most of us do not know is that everyone carries the BRCA1 gene.

“The gene is highly important for normal function. The protein that is coded by this gene helps us combat cancer because it works towards repairing the DNA damage that we all incur,” said Dr. Liana Apostolova, a neurologist at the IU Health Neuroscience Center who specializes in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease.

The gene plays a role in ensuring the stability of the cell's genetic material and does not pose a problem until the gene becomes mutated. The mutation halts DNA damage from being repaired and as a result, cells are more likely to develop cancer.

Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy and her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed to reduce her risk of developing cancer.

“The gene is faulty in people who have a mutation in it. It is perfectly functional in most of us that are not at risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer,” said Apostolova.

Now, researchers also believe the protein may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

“The connection is that people that have the BRCA1 gene mutation and are at risk of ovarian and breast cancer also have very low levels or dysfunctional protein …which is similar to what is observed in Alzheimer’s,” said Apostolova.

The research does not draw any links between the risk of developing the cancer and dementia, but researchers say the discovery is significant. Doctors hope that this study can help them find a way to increase BRCA1 levels to a normal level to stop patients from getting Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m sure the study will lead to some new therapeutic ideas,” said Apostolova.

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