U of R researcher makes ground-breaking discovery in Alzheimer’s
Alejandra Castilla Bolanos, 23, started researching Alzheimer’s in Dr. Josef Buttigieg’s lab at the U of R in fall 2017.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, occurs when a protein called A-beta becomes sticky, attaches to brain cells and kills them. That means neurons in the brain aren’t able to communicate certain functions and memories.
Up until recently, Castilla Bolanos says the neuroscience community believed that all kinds of A-beta proteins were harmful to cells, but her research proves otherwise.
“We [found] that some kinds of A-beta can actually neutralize the effects of other kinds of A-beta and recover the electrical connectivity that the neurons have to communicate with each other,” said Castilla Bolanos.
A boost in funding came last spring, after an anonymous donor stepped forward with $100,000.00 to help continue the Alzheimer’s research in Dr. Buttigieg’s lab, which is done in collaboration with Dr. Darrell Mousseau out of the University of Saskatchewan.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan says dementia research is still under-funded compared to other diseases, but advancements like Castilla Bolanos’ give patients hope.
“Often many [patients] express that they think what’s going to change their future or the way that they think about dementia is some sort of a breakthrough in research,” said Alzheimer’s Society CEO Joanne Bracken. “On the other side, when there is a clinical trial or something that doesn’t go right of course that’s disappointing because we do want to find a cure for this disease.”
So far, the effects of the A-beta proteins have only been tested in isolated neurons. The next step for Castilla Bolanos would be to test in tissue or mice to see if she gets the same results, before potentially taking it to a clinical trial.
“It depends first on the results that we get,” she said. “What we find in isolated neurons could be different in animal models or what happens in an animal model could be different in humans.”
While this is a big step forward in Alzheimer’s research, Castilla Bolanos says it could take years before enough answers lead to a cure.
“We don’t know how this occurs; we don’t know why it occurs, so we cannot cure it.”
Castilla Bolanos says she plans to continue her research at the U of R long after her graduate studies program, in the hopes of one day developing a treatment.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.