U of L neuroscientists awarded nearly $2 million for Alzheimer's research

By Lara Fominoff @LaraFominoff on Twitter
March 13, 2018 - 4:20pm Updated: March 14, 2018 - 9:45am

LETHBRIDGE - Nearly $2 million in funding grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research have been awarded to two neuroscience professors at the University of Lethbridge.

The projects focus on certain aspects of Alzheimer's disease using mice that have been bred to display Alzheimer's traits at a certain age. The studies will examine the complexity of brain activity in mice and how that's changed by experience and tasks like spatial memory and object recognition, according to Professor Bruce McNaughton.

"We think that it's that complexity of the patterns of activity which underlies this idea from behaviour which is called 'cognitive reserve.' So cognitive reserve is a lumped idea. It's a composite that includes things like educational achievement, language skills, occupation, hobbies.

"Generally, more people that have had more sophisticated life experience are considered to have more cognitive reserve, and that's correlated with less signs of dementia for the same amount of pathology in the case of Alzheimer's, but also less signs of normal age- related memory impairment."

McNaughton says while it's already known that keeping your brain active helps ward off dementia, what they're trying to understand how the brain that does that.

"We know behaviourally that people with a higher cognitive reserve are protected to some degree against the effects of Alzheimer’s and the effects of aging, but we don't know why."

And both scientists are hoping for several outcomes from their studies

"One is a fundamental understanding of the way in which the brain encodes information, the way in which it acquires new information and in general what the difference is between a relatively sophisticated brain, and a relatively naive brain, explains McNaughton. "And those are measures that can be translated into measures that can be taken from humans with EEG (Electroencephalography) or magnetic imaging and can be used as kind of a finger print for cognitive reserve. It's really an attempt to understand what it is about this enriched experience that underlies cognitive reserve that protects the brain."

Associate Professor Majid Mohajerani came from UBC specifically to take part in the studies. He has developed special technology, so scientists can actually see changes occurring in mice brains.

"So, we can basically watch neural activity day by day, and see the change in response to acquiring knowledge or experience. But we could also look at how those neurons or mini neurons or how they get connected, how those are changing in response to pathology. In this particular case we are looking at Alzheimer's disease."

Scientists can then image the mouse brain as the disease progresses to see how the disease is changing brain cells and in turn, their behavior.

Brenda Hill, with the Alzheimer's Society of Alberta, Lethbridge office, says it's exciting that such broad research is being done here.

"The research is always a positive step. And it's to have hope that there will be some traction made in finding a cause and a cure for Alzheimer's disease. It gives people that hope."

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