"The challenge for translating these genes into interventions lies in figuring out how and in whom we can initiate the intervention long before clinical symptoms are evident," said Dr. Samuel Gandy, professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and past chair of the National Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer's Association.
Gandy said by the time memory impairment begins, it can be as many as 20 years too late to intervene.
"The new genes are tremendously important, but realistically, they will not provide any time soon any new genetic tests or any new drugs," Gandy said.
Recently, much Alzheimer's disease research has focused on identifying biomarkers detectable in the blood or on brain scans that signal disease processes long before symptoms set in.
"The field of Alzheimer's disease is moving toward the idea that we need to treat not only people with the symptoms of the disease but also those without any symptoms but at elevated risk," said Zaven S. Khachaturian, president of the the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease by 2020.
While the discovery of five new susceptibility genes is exciting, the ultimately challenge is to tease out how out they interact with other factors that confer risk or protection to predict who will get the disease, Khachaturian said.