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New dementia research will use latest in stem cell technology

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Posted November 19, 2012

A major research project using cutting edge stem cell technology to investigate the causes of dementia has been launched at University of Bath, thanks to funding from a South West Alzheimer’s charity.

Fundraisers BRACE provided £178,628 for a three-year project which should significantly deepen scientists’ understanding of how the brain behaves in cases of dementia, eventually paving the way for new treatments.

Dr Vasanta Subramanian, who is leading the research in University of Bath Department of Biology & Biochemistry, will focus on fronto-temporal dementia (FTD), which is one of the forms of dementia which affects the under 65s.

Through the use of the very latest developments in stem cell research, normal skin cells taken from dementia patients, and a control group, will be reprogrammed to stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) and turned into neurons which are found in the brain.

The patient specific neurons can then be studied to see how they develop and change to gain a clearer view of the disease state.

Dr Subramanian explained: “There has been a revolution in stem cell technology in the last few years which means it is now possible to create the cells found in a human brain in a laboratory from stem cells.

“We hope to understand the difference between the normal neurons and neurons from the FTD patient. The normal and diseased neurons will be generated in a dish and we will be able to generate an unlimited supply of these nerves as they will be derived from the skin of FTD patients and control skin cells.

“Once this model is validated it will then be available for therapeutic research so it can be used to test potential treatments for their effectiveness.

“The opportunity to test treatments on actual living human brain cells is revolutionary as until recently we have only been able to work on brains of people who have passed away.”

Bristol-based BRACE funds research into dementia conditions at universities and hospitals across the South West.

Dr Subramanian added: “Knowing that the money for this study has been raised in the local community really helps us focus on the research we have committed to undertake.

“Hopefully our work will inspire people to keep supporting BRACE because it’s really only through ongoing, serious research that we will get a much deeper understanding of these devastating conditions.”

Source: University of Bath

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