Watch the interview with Daniel Zeichner and Rick Livesey on Cambridge TV.
Dr Rick Livesey welcomed Mr Zeichner along with representatives of Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) on the morning of 16th October 2015. He explained that the ARUK Stem Cell Research Centre was launched in 2014, thanks to a grant of £1.7M over five years, generously provided by the Alborada Trust.
The group toured the Centre's laboratories within the Gurdon Institute. Researchers explained how they have created the first ever model of Alzheimer’s disease 'in a dish' by building on the work of Sir John Gurdon, to create stem cells that grow into brain cells (cortical neurons) in tissue culture.
The researchers can follow the progress of the disease in the networks of electrically active neurons that naturally form in culture, and test potential therapeutic compounds. They have already identified a class of drug that reduces the production of toxic peptides seen in protein aggregates.
The whole process requires only a small skin sample from each donor. The neurons that are derived from these skin cells contain the same genetic material as would be found in the donor’s brain and can therefore replicate features from normal or abnormal genes.
The ARUK Stem Cell Research Centre is a collaboration with the Institute of Neurology, University College London, where clinicians have access to patients with a variety of genetic and sporadic forms of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, including those with early-onset dementia due to Down syndrome. The researchers can use skin samples from such patients to examine the effect of different genetic mutations once the neurons are generated in culture.
The ARUK grant has allowed the Livesey lab to appoint four new research staff to significantly speed up the rate of research. The team are also able to apply cutting-edge microscopy techniques for live imaging of neural activity, and an automated imaging system combined with a cell culture incubator to scale up testing of compounds.