Issue date: 14 January 2010
A scientist from the University of the West of England has won funding from local charity BRACE
for an investigation that may lead to earlier interventions that slow or even prevent progression of Alzhiemers Disease (AD).
Dr Myra Conway from UWE's Centre for Research in Biomedicine
will be working with PhD student and BRACE scholar, Jonathan Hull, from UWE and Dr Katy Chalmers, Professor Seth Love and Dr Patrick Kehoe from Bristol's Frenchay Hospital on a three year project that aims to identify how proteins control glutamate in the brain. Glutamate build up can cause brain cell toxicity leading to neural degeneration.
Mark Poarch, Chief Executive at BRACE, said, “This is the first time BRACE has funded research at UWE and the grant represents the continuing expansion of our support for research. The work that Dr Conway and her colleagues are doing is extremely important, and we are delighted to be able to support them.”
Pilot studies have already ascertained that people with AD experience an excessive production of brain specific enzymes responsible for controling glutamate.
Dr Conway explains, “This is a very exciting study and I'm delighted to be given the opportunity to work in partnership with BRACE and Frenchay Hospital. It is critical that we gain better insights into the pathogenesis of AD as it is estimated that there will be around 34 million people suffering from dementia worldwide by 2025.
“Despite extensive research we need to improve our understanding of the chemistry of cellular deterioration that can occur in the brains of people with AD so that we can develop better treatments.
“In healthy individuals, the brain uses a chemical called glutamate to control memory and learning. If the glutamate reaches high levels, however, it becomes toxic to the brain cells and may help cause dementia. There is a protein that controls glutamate levels and we need to find out what happens to this protein in the brains of people with dementia.
“Glutamate levels in the brain are controlled by a protein called the branched chain amniotransferase (BCAT). It is possible that regulation of the hBCAT proteins in patients with AD is directly linked to glutamate toxicity.
“If we can ascertain how hBCAT controls glutamate during disease conditions we will come closer to understanding how to develop treatments that may delay or even prevent the progression of AD.
“There has been some success through use of gabapentin, an anti-epileptic drug used to treat some patients with AD that is known to inhibit the hBCAT proteins in reducing the levels of glutamate. However, the chemical mechanism by which the drug does this is not clearly understood. Our research also aims to investigate this further.”
The project will begin in June 2010 and will run for three years. Organ donation is being organised through the human tissue authority licensed research brain bank based at Frenchay Hospital with aspects of the work carried out in collaboration with Dr Katy Chalmers (Research Associate). Katy is also second supervisor together with Dr Conway for the BRACE scholar.
BRACE (Bristol Research into Alzheimer's and Care of the Elderly) is a registered charity established in 1987 to finance research into conditions of the elderly, particularly Alzheimer's Disease. BRACE supports research projects undertaken in universities and hospitals in the South West of the UK, particularly in Bristol, which is a centre of excellence for neuroscience research.
BRACE has raised over £10 million to help support diverse research projects into all aspects of dementia. On average BRACE supports 15 researchers at any one time from PhD students to Senior Research Fellows.