Understanding the Alzheimer's brain

12 September, 2012

In a small laboratory at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga, ground breaking research using mice aims to discover more about brain cell death in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Adam Hamlin’s research uses mice to discover more about brain cell death. National Health and Medical Research Council Fellow, Dr Adam Hamlin from CSU’s School of Biomedical Sciences, hopes the research will lead to earlier detection of the disease.
Almost 280,000 Australians suffer dementia with Alzheimer’s disease accounting for 50 to 70 per cent of all cases.
Dr Hamlin said Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to diagnose and can only be confirmed by examining a patient’s brain during autopsy.
"A sticky protein called amyloid beta plaque is one of the hallmarks of the disease," he said. "There’s also a lot of brain cell death associated and it’s very specific in its progression."
Dr Hamlin’s research is examining a particular type of brain cell, cholinergic cells, which die very early in the disease.
"At the moment there’s no cure and no drugs that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. If we are going to find a cure or a treatment we must be able to detect it early,” he said.

"Understanding more about the role these cholinergic cells play will help to develop behavioural tests as a very early indicator of the disease."

The research uses transgenic mice that have been genetically engineered to over-produce the amyloid beta plaque in their brains.
"I have set up a behavioural suite at Charles Sturt University where I can monitor all sorts of behaviours in the mice as the Alzheimer’s disease symptoms progress.
"My research indicates the cholinergic cells play a very specific role in navigation, what’s known as dead reckoning, or knowing where you are relative to where you have been," Dr Hamlin said.

"One of the early symptoms of people with Alzheimer’s disease is that they get lost, particularly in places where they aren’t familiar with the external environment."
The next step is to develop a maze to test the function of cholinergic cells in humans, as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
The research also involves surgically manipulating healthy mice to gain a better understanding of the mechanism that causes cholinergic brain cells to die.

Source: Charles Sturt University