By Erik Derr ( | First Posted: Apr 05, 2013 06:07 PM EDT

(Photo : Creative Commons/Erik Derr)

Scientists have identified early genetic markers that may be able to help predict who runs an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

In order to currently determine if a person is likely to develop Alzheimer's, doctors examine the amount of tau protein buildup in the central nervous system. The more tau in an individual's system, the more possibility a patient has to progress towards dementia.

Up until the new findings, however, scientists didn't have a way to anticipate years ahead when one's body might start creating the special protein.

Research through the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has identified genetic mutations that can influence the accumulation of tau proteins, according to a story published in Medical Daily.

The discovery could potentially offer an early genetic test for finding those who are more at risk of developing Alzheimer's - but also lead to earlier, better treatments for the debilitating condition.

"We have identified several genes that influence the levels of soluble tau in the cerebrospinal fluid," WU School of Medicine's Dr. Alison Goate, the study's senior author, told Medical Daily. "We show that one of these genes also influences risk for Alzheimer's disease, rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease and density of tangle pathology in the brain."

After performing a genetic analysis on 1,269 patients, Goate and her team identified two genes that - while similar - acted oppositely in association with the Tau proteins. One of the genes indicated a risk of Alzheimer's and the other was protective against the disease.

"We anticipate that knowledge about the role of these genes in Alzheimer's disease may lead to the identification of new targets from therapies or new animal or cellular models of the disease," Goate said.

"In discovering new genes that have a link to Alzheimer's, this robust study helps scientists to better understand the way the brain changes when dementia develops," Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society in the United Kingdom, told BBC News. "Research such as this may in the future help us to engineer treatments aimed at stopping such changes and therefore slowing or stopping the effects of dementia."

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