A link between Alzheimer’s and cancer had been suspected by scientists since some recent researches had shown an inverse association between the two diseases. Now a new research at Houston Methodist Research Institute has found that Alzheimer’s and cancer share a pathway in gene transcription. The link is found between glioblastoma multiform (GBM), the most aggressive form of brain cancer and Alzheimer’s.

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Scientists used the Lonestar and Stampede supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin to analyze and compare the data from thousands of genes and to narrow the search for common cell signaling pathways of the two diseases. Cells regulate their growth and reproduction by sending signals inward from receptors at their surface to the nucleus containing its genetic material.

Lead investigator, Stephen Wong and his team sought the molecular pathways the two diseases might share. After finding which genes were active in the two diseases, pathways analysis was carried out, in which the active genes were mapped to known pathways. Then they formed a working list if common pathways and narrowed that list further with experiments in cell cultures and live mice.Once the mechanism is identified, it can be used to design a therapeutic strategy.

Simplified diagram of mRNA synthesis and processing. Enzymes not shown.

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In the procedure, first of all, using DNA microarray they revealed the active and inactive genes shared between the two samples of brain cancer vs Alzheimer’s. It was found that the ERK/MAPK cell signal pathway is up regulated in brain cancer whereas in Alzheimer’s the Angiopoietin Signaling pathway is up regulated. Further tests showed that in mice with Alzheimer’s, the suppression of tumor growth was mediated by the ERK-AKT-p21-cell cycle pathway and anti-angiogenesis pathway. Thus proving that the body has a very fine regulation at very detailed level within the individual signaling pathways to make the two diseases exclude each other.

The analysis of the microarray data of both diseases included gene annotation, pathway expansion, enrichment analysis and more.

Despite that, the research is still at an early stage in fully understanding the biological links between cancer and Alzheimer’s . But once the scientists reach at a better understanding of the molecular biology of this inverse relation between the two, it will help develop some new drugs as the researchers claim, they said if some important molecules are discovered which caused GBM, maybe they could be developed into some drugs and used for the Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

Scientists are hopeful that in the near future they will either find a way to beat one or both of the diseases because of the advent of this era of digital biology.