University of Bristol: £1.5 million to research the role of genes and specific cell-types in Alzheimer’s disease

In one of the biggest projects ever funded in this area, a team at the University of Exeter, with co-investigators from the universities of Bristol and Essex and the UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial College London, will analyse patterns of gene activity in different cell-types in the brain to find changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 26 million people worldwide, with no treatment available to improve the course of the disease. Despite major advances in identifying genetic risk factors, uncertainty remains about the specific genes that cause the condition and how their function is dysregulated in its progression.

It is known that Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by changes occurring in certain cell-types, for example it involves the extensive loss of neurons. Therefore, it is critical to measure gene activity in each different brain cell-type individually to understand how they are linked to the development of the condition. Mapping the differences will potentially enable a step-change in unravelling the mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease.

Study lead Professor Jonathan Mill, from the University of Exeter, said: “We’re delighted that our project has been funded by the Medical Research Council. By identifying genomic changes in specific cell-types in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, we will be in a unique position to understand more about the molecular processes involved in this terrible condition and identify pathways that can be hopefully targeted by novel drugs and treatments.”

Seth Love, Professor of Neuropathology in the Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences, added: “To study chemical modifications that regulate which genes are active or inactive in different types of cell within the brain, the Exeter group will use informatics-based statistical methods to identify and subclassify the cells obtained from human brain tissue. In Bristol we will validate those methods, by labelling and quantifying the different types of cell in the brain tissue.”

The extensive data to be collected in the study and the methods used will be made freely accessible, to provide an Open Science resource to the wider research community and stimulate dementia research across the world.