The quest to find a drug to help prevent and delay Alzheimer’s disease has been a long one, however a recent research collaboration between two Canadian universities may bring about a much-needed medical breakthrough.
Dr. Majid Mohajerani, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge’s Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) and Drs. Benoit Gosselin and Yves De Koninck from Laval University in Quebec City are creating new tools for neuroscience research, allowing them to test out a promising drug targeted at Alzheimer’s disease.
“New treatments for these diseases are critically needed,” said Mohajerani in a news release sent out by the U of L.
“Alzheimer’s disease has an enormous impact on patients, the health-care system and society. This is only anticipated to get worse as the population ages.”
“Current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease only address some of the symptoms. They do not prevent or alter the course of the disease.”
A grant of nearly $1 million from the Weston Brain Institute, awarded to Laval University, is making the research possible, and the U of L will be receiving a portion of the funding.
On Thursday, the institute sent Global News a statement, saying it is very enthusiastic about this research “as it not only focuses on a new pathway to reduce the progression of the disease, but also takes advantage of new tools to significantly enhance the drug discovery process.”
“So, we started out at looking at acute administration of this drug — so just giving this drug immediately before testing the mice — and looking at its effects.
“Now for the next stage we’ll be moving onto administering the drug for several weeks before we actually test the behaviour and look at the brain activity of the mice to look at the long-term effects,” said Brendan McAllister, a postdoctoral fellow, in Dr. Mohajerani’s lab at the University of Lethbridge.
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Engineers at Laval will be developing a wireless device to implant into the brains of mice, while the U of L is creating the monitoring system for the study.
The university says the device allows for minimally invasive stimulation and the recording of brain activity in mice in their home cages, adding the wireless transmitter removes the need for the animals to be taken from its home cage and hooked up to wires in the lab.
“The idea that we’re investigating is that there is an imbalance in excitation and inhibition in the brain, essentially.
“You have some cells in the brain that excite other cells and you have some cells in the brain that send signals that decrease the activity of their cells,” McAllister explained.
The technology will allow the researchers to address the idea that abnormal brain activity is characterized by an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory connections in the brain, possibly underlying the early progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
“De Koninck is a world expert on a certain protein found on the outer membranes of cells within the nervous system called potassium chloride co-transporter 2 (KCC2),” reads the release.
“An increase or decrease in the production of KCC2 affects the balance of inhibitory and excitatory activity in the brain.
“Pharmaceutical tools that target KCC2 might thus be able to correct the imbalance observed in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other nervous system disorders such as chronic pain,” the release reads.
Mohajerani says they are using drugs that modulate the expression of KCC2. He adds they will increase and decrease the production of KCC2 to study both effects.
“We will explore if activation of KCC2, by boosting neuronal inhibition, can reduce the progression of the disease and if inhibition of KCC2 will increase the progression of the disease,” Mohajerani says.
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The university says genetically modified mice that model Alzheimer’s disease pathology and symptoms are being used in the study.
“The project aims to accelerate the development of therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease by testing how altering KCC2 function affects brain activity and behaviour during disease progression in living animals. If successful, this research would implicate KCC2 as an entirely new drug target for mitigating Alzheimer’s disease,” says the university in a statement.
Dr. Jim Silvius, provincial medical director of seniors’ health with Alberta Health Services, says the disease has a significant impact on the health-care system.
“We have between 80 and 100,000 Albertans that are affected by dementia at this time. The numbers are expected to continue to rise,” Silvius stated.
He goes on to say the impact each individual has on the health-care system depends on the need of the person and what stage their cognitive disease has progressed to.
Silvius says things such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking or drinking heavily and consistent socialization can help prevent cognitive diseases.
Although, he noted the pandemic is limiting people’s ability to be able to socialize and even exercise on an ongoing basis, negatively impacting their capacity of leading a healthy lifestyle.
The Alzheimer’s Society in Lethbridge says caring for a loved one with the disease can be deeply devastating as people watch the person they once knew change into somebody else, while their memory continues to deteriorate.
“The unknowns are really difficult. I really want to encourage people to reach out to others and talk to people, especially during COVID, because it is a difficult time, isolating time.”
The Alzheimer’s Society has had to constrict its resources, moving all services online, like many other non-profits.
It says it has been a struggle being able to provide support during these unprecedented times, however some services are still available through phone or the web to help assist those living with the disease, along with caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.