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Charity funding boost helps Bradford scientists focus in on Alzheimer's

Published: Thu 19 May 2016

Researchers at the University of Bradford are now able to buy a state-of-the-art imaging system to study nerve cells in real time thanks to a £27k funding award from the UK's leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer's Research UK.

The system will allow scientists across the region to study the behaviour of living nerve cells, with the aim of moving a step closer to tackling Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and symptoms include loss of memory, confusion, personality changes and difficulty with day-to-day tasks. In Alzheimer’s, nerve cells in the brain become damaged and die, causing the brain to shrink by around 140g – the weight of an orange. Scientists are working hard to understand the molecular changes that underpin this damage in nerve cells, to identify new ways to treat the disease.

Prof Tim Palmer and teams at the University of Bradford School of Pharmacy are studying the biology of how nerve cells in the brain communicate. It’s a breakdown in this communication between nerve cells in the brain that leads to the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s. By studying the communication points, called ‘synapses’, between living nerve cells in the laboratory, the team hopes to learn more about this complex communication process and gain clues to how to stop it from going wrong in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Prof Palmer said: “We’re very grateful for this funding boost, which will allow us to move forward with our current experiments but in much more detail that we’ve been able to previously. This imaging system will enable us to study the biology of the brain in minute detail and in real time in living nerve cells, so we can see what’s happening and what’s going wrong in front of our very eyes.

“Diseases like Alzheimer’s have a huge impact on people’s lives and we urgently need to develop new and effective ways to treat them. A crucial first step in developing any treatment is to understand the underlying biology of a disease, and then discover the most effective ways to intervene in the processes that are going wrong. This cutting-edge new equipment will not only benefit our research teams, but scientists across the region who are using research to understand the mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s. Our ultimate goal is to identify proteins involved in the breakdown of nerve cells that could become the focus of future efforts to develop new treatments for the disease.”

The University of Bradford is part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Yorkshire Research Network which brings together researchers from Bradford, Sheffield, Leeds and York. This new equipment will benefit researchers across the Yorkshire Research Network as well as wider networks of dementia researchers across the UK. The imaging system will support a range of projects including those looking at how nerve cells die in Alzheimer’s, and the role of the immune system in the disease.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The UK is cementing its position as a global powerhouse of dementia research and to make sure our researchers can continue to make the breakthroughs that will take us closer to improving lives, they must have cutting-edge equipment at their fingertips. We’re pleased to be supporting researchers at the University of Bradford in their efforts to unpick the biology of Alzheimer’s, and provide the tools that will help them to progress faster. As a fundraising charity, we receive no government funding for our research and are grateful to our many supporters for raising the funds that have made this award possible. With half a million people in the UK currently living with Alzheimer’s, we must continue to do everything in our power to transform lives through research.”

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