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Dr. Darrell Mousseau is Saskatchewan's leading researcher in Alzheimer's Disease and related dementias. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's leading dementia researcher is looking into possible genetic links between depression and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Darrell Mousseau is hoping to find a way to determine which people with depression may go on to get Alzheimer's.

"Let's say that someone does get depressed and we can say you have brain changes that potentially could lead to Alzheimer's. Then we'd like to say at that point perhaps you could take medication that would delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease," Mousseau explained Wednesday in Saskatoon.

Mousseau was among more than two dozen Saskatchewan researchers showcasing their work on the disease.

He says there is some evidence depression can lead to Alzheimer's in certain people.

'We could be helping a lot of people.' —Research scientist Dr. Darrell Mousseau

In some people there is a link, and it seems at least part of that link is based on some sort of genetic component.

Mousseau's work is at the earliest stage of research, using cell cultures and animals.

So far, he has found connections between some of the proteins that have been associated with Alzheimer's and one of the enzymes that have been historically associated with depression.

He says the ability to treat people early on, could have tremendous benefits.

"If we can affect and have some sort of an impact on even 10 per cent of the population that's going to ultimately develop Alzheimer's, we could be helping a lot of people," Mousseau said. "Not only the patient themselves, the caregivers, but also — and this is to be blunt — we would also be helping the health care system." 

Mousseau noted one national report on health costs found that some $22 billion is spent in Canada on the care and treatment of people with Alzheimer's. 

About 110,000 Canadians per year are diagnosed with an Alzheimer's-like dementia, and that number is expected to keep rising.

Synchrotron experiments planned

Mousseau is looking to set up some experiments using the Synchrotron in Saskatoon to monitor brain changes in mice over time.

Right now he has to examine different mice at different times.  But there are natural variations from animal to animal. 

"If we can monitor changes in that same mouse over week to week to week to week, over a year period using the Light Source, that would be phenomenal," he said. "Not only would we use less animals, there would also be much less variability in our data."

 

With files from CBC's Kathy Fitzpatrick