Dr. Darrell Mousseau

Dr. Darrell Mousseau (right) with lab technician Paul Pennington. (CBC/Kathy Fitzpatrick)

Saskatchewan's leading dementia researcher is looking into possible genetic links between depression and Alzheimer's Disease. Now he's found a gender-based pattern that may one day lead to more effective treatment for Alzheimer's.

Dr. Darrell Mousseau looked at men and women with depression who went on to develop Alzheimer's. He found that the two genders tended to have different types of depression. He thinks that may point to different drug treatments for men and women with Alzheimer's. He said the next step is further testing on genetically-engineered mice in his lab.

"And then we can start to figure out, okay in this case maybe the males will respond better to this kind of a drug, and the female mice will respond better to that kind of a drug," said Mousseau, Saskatchewan Research Chair in Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia.

He says it's not that that all men will one day get one type of drug, while all women will get another type. But doctors may start off patients of different genders with different drugs, knowing the odds of success could be better.

Looking for preventive treatments

However, Mousseau's finding is still preliminary. He said many more brain tissue samples from across the country need to be examined.

Looking further ahead, Mousseau hopes his research will lead to treatments that will actually delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

"If we identify people who will start with depression and go on to the Alzheimer's, well maybe that means that some of those Alzheimer's drugs could be useful if we start treating them much earlier before any signs of dementia are apparent and they would be much more beneficial," Mousseau said.

Mousseau has made another significant finding for women.

"There is some evidence out there to show that the risk of developing Alzheimer's is inversely related to the risk of getting breast cancer," he said.

From this, Mousseau hopes to find clues to what triggers breast cancer, and how it can be switched off. And, perhaps what processes in the body need to be turned on to prevent Alzheimer's.