The one-year pilot project, led by Dr Nina Balthasar at the University of Bristol, could bring new treatments for Alzheimer’s a step closer.
Dr Balthasar and her team are setting out to understand how a protein called tau, which is known to build up and tangle inside brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease, interferes with the cells’ energy-producing ‘power stations’, called mitochondria. Previous research has shown that as tau accumulates, the mitochondria are no longer able to reach certain parts of the cell, and less able to produce the amount of energy needed for cells to function. The team believe that damage to mitochondria may play a key role in the death of brain cells as the disease progresses.
To combat this, the researchers will examine potential methods to keep the mitochondria working properly. As part of their study, they will investigate a protein called SIRT3, which is known to help mitochondria function in times of stress. They hope that increases in the amount of this protein may help protect mitochondria from tau’s harmful effects, and by testing this theory, their research could influence the design of new drugs to tackle Alzheimer’s.
Dr Balthasar from the University’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology said: “This funding is a real boost to our research, which aims to shed more light on a relatively new area in Alzheimer’s research. We know that damage to mitochondria can interfere with communication between brain cells, and we hope to find ways of making the mitochondria more resilient – potentially helping people to maintain their cognitive abilities in the process.
“Research is already under way in the pharmaceutical industry to design drugs that target SIRT3 for other conditions, and through our study we hope to discover whether such a treatment could be helpful in Alzheimer’s. New treatments capable of tackling Alzheimer’s are still much-needed, and I hope our research will help us move closer to that goal.”
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: “We’re delighted to be supporting this research, which should bring new insights into the underlying mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s and highlight potential ways of intervening in the disease. Our pilot project grants are designed to test new, innovative ideas like this one, and we look forward to seeing the results of this exciting study.
“Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which affects over 4,000 people in Bristol alone, and we still lack treatments capable of tackling the disease. The design of new treatments is a long process, and this research represents a possible first step on the road to new drug discovery. Investment in early studies such as this one are vital if we are to make a real difference to people’s lives.”
The study entitled ‘Does improved mitochondrial health protect against tauopathy-induced neurodegeneration?’ is funded by a £45,434 grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading charity specialising in finding preventions, treatments and a cure for dementia.