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Major 'Alzheimer's-in-a-dish' discovery

Major 'Alzheimer's-in-a-dish' discovery
16th October 2014

Scientists have managed to successfully replicate the brain cells that lead to Alzheimer's for the first time. 

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have used a new system to effectively harvest a culture, in turn providing evidence to support the long-held hypothesis that the deposition of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain is the first step in the development of the condition. 

This means more thorough investigations of the neurodegenerative disease can be carried out and so finding a cure is a much better possibility long term. Up until now, all studies have been completed on mice. 

Dr Rudolph Tanzi, director of the MGH Genetics and Aging Research Unit, said the hypothesis dates back to the 1980s. 

"One of the biggest questions since then has been whether beta-amyloid actually triggers the formation of the tangles that kill neurons," he added.

"In this new system that we call 'Alzheimer's-in-a-dish,' we've been able to show for the first time that amyloid deposition is sufficient to lead to tangles and subsequent cell death."

Dr Tanzi stated the new culture system has the potential to revolutionise drug discovery in terms of speed, costs and the physiologic relevance to the condition. This underlines just how major a breakthrough it is. 

The current procedure of testing mice cells takes over a year, is very costly and is not even guaranteed to successfully produce the right cells. 

Dr Doo Yeon Kim, PhD, co-senior author of the Nature paper alongside Dr Tanzi, recognised the liquid two-dimensional systems that were typically used for growing cultured cells did not properly represent the gelatinous three-dimensional environment within the brain.

This is why the researchers used a gel-based, three-dimensional culture system in order to grow human stem cells that were used to create variants in two genes.

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