American researchers have identified four genes which might be linked to a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Their findings may lead to new treatments which could slow or even reverse the effects of the disease, according to the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
It is part of a wider research project which is aiming to compile a list of all genes which carry a vulnerability to, or protection against, Alzheimer's disease.
"We are on the cusp of a rare 'science moment' that could alter the way we diagnose, treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease," said Dr Rudolph Tanzi, of Harvard Medical School.
He commented that the project is the "most complete and comprehensive search" to date for the genes which cause the condition.
A separate report released last week in the US suggests that lifestyle factors can play a major part in the development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Dietary patterns, exposure to toxic chemicals and socio-economic stress were among the significant factors cited in the Environmental Threats to Healthy Ageing report, which was published jointly by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Science and Environmental Health Network.
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