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Pioneering study to investigate causes of Alzheimer's

Stem Cells
Skin cells taken from patients with Alzheimer's disease that were reprogrammed to become stem cells

31 January 2014

The development of Alzheimer’s disease and the way it spreads throughout the brain will be the focus of a pioneering study conducted at Aston University. 

Dr Eric Hill, of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, will lead the investigation into the behaviour of tau proteins, which are thought to cause the disease when they accumulate and become tangled in the central nervous system. 

A major aim of the study, funded by a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) £95,453 grant, is to establish ways to reduce the number of animals used in pharmacological testing.

 At present, the analysis of tau proteins, one of the most active areas of Alzheimer’s research, often requires the use of hundreds of animals, is time consuming and expensive and can produce results that may not translate beneficially to humans. 

Aston’s impending study will develop a research method based upon testing human stem cells instead of transgenic mice. It is hoped this new procedure will help scientists predict with greater accuracy the effectiveness of the latest drugs intended to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s. 

Dr Hill said: “This project, which will be run in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, could help completely transform the study of tau pathology. Not only could the study result in an increased understanding of the causes of the disease and how to successfully treat it, but it may also lead to pharmaceutical companies reducing by many thousands  the number of transgenic mice they use per year in Alzheimer’s research.” 

The investigation is part of the NC3R’s nationwide CRACK IT Challenge Competition to develop new technologies and approaches which replace or reduce the need for animals in research and testing. Aston University is one of 17 institutions awarded grant money to take part in the initiative. 

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this CRACK IT Challenge, and look forward to seeing the early results from competitors in a few months’ time. The task these researchers are taking on is not an easy one, but this work could have important implications for the development of much-needed new treatments for these diseases.” 

There are more than 820,000 people living with dementia in the UK – more than 9,000 of them in Birmingham alone – and the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s. There are currently no treatments available to slow down the disease and no definitive answers as to what causes it. 

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For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk