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ATLANTA — When key mutations strike bone marrow stem cells, known as hematopoietic stem cells, your risk for a litany of diseases go up. “Heart attacks, strokes, more recently COPD, osteoporosis,” Siddhartha Jaiswal, a pathology researcher at Stanford University, rattled off. “And you’re at higher risk of blood cancers in the future. They’re the first hit on the path to cancer.”

These mutations are almost universally bad, Jaiswal said in an interview with STAT. But in a new study, Jaiswal found that these same genetic changes might actually protect against Alzheimer’s disease, startling researchers who reviewed the work and raising questions as to how such pathological mutations could prevent the devastating neurodegenerative disorder. His team presented the new data at the American Society of Hematology annual conference in Atlanta on Sunday.

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