A new laboratory at the Nencki Institute will target Alzheimer’s disease
The Laboratory of Preclinical Studies of the Nencki Institute in Warsaw will focus on the causes of neurodegeneration such as observed in Alzheimer’s disease. The newly opened lab, unique character in Europe, is the last of five research and development facilities launched under the modern Neurobiology Center at the Nencki Institute.
The Laboratory of Preclinical Studies of Higher Standard, the newest lab of the Neurobiology Center at the Nencki Institute in Warsaw, Poland, will conduct basic research aimed to explain molecular mechanisms responsible for neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers will strive to establish methods for detecting biochemical signals marking the earliest stages of developing diseases. Understanding the key factors responsible for neurodegeneration will in the future facilitate not only early detection of diseases but also preparation of effective treatments.
The newly opened facility is the last of five new core facilities of the Neurobiology Center at the Nencki Institute, an investment of 52 million PLN executed under a key European project of establishing a Centre for Preclinical Research and Technology (CePT).
The core facility nature of the Neurobiology Center’s Laboratory of Preclinical Studies implies that the laboratory will conduct preclinical tests for outside research institutions and firms. It has been equipped, among other, with cell analysers of the newest generation to facilitate scientific research on the activity and safety of different compounds in cell lines including mice, rat and human neuronal cultures as well as in human blood cells and in animal and human cancer cell lines. In addition, the Lab is adapted for conducting preclinical tests on mice models of neurodegenerative and immunodefective diseases.
During the next few years researchers from the Laboratory of Preclinical Studies of the Neurobiology Center at the Nencki Institute will focus primarily on Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 3% of people aged 70 and over, 10% of people aged 80 and over and as much as half of the entire population of people over 90 years of age.
“A longer lifespan leads to neurodegenerative diseases becoming a growing problem. Not only for those affected by these diseases, but for society as a whole. At present Alzheimer’s disease is number three on the list of the most expensive diseases to treat, with global costs amounting to 600 billion USD annually. And we still do not have either good methods for early diagnosis or fully effective therapies,” says Prof. Urszula Wojda from the Nencki Institute.
In Alzheimer’s disease connections between synapses in the brain are damaged, which is accompanied by the gradual, long term dying out of neurons. Progressive degeneration of neurons in the brain, especially in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, results in memory and personality disorders and finally the decline of cognitive functions. It is likely that this disease starts even 20 years before the onset of first symptoms and when the patient begins to notice them, often many neurons have already been lost.
Microscopic images of the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease show characteristic extracellular deposits of a protein known as beta amyloid. Furthermore, intracellular aggregates of tau protein have been observed in degenerated neurons. To date these changes, especially the formation and deposition of beta amyloid, have been treated as the possible main cause of the disease. Everywhere in the world researchers have been searching for a compound effectively fighting the amyloid. However the newest drugs, developed in accordance with this conception, show low effectiveness and serious side effects. It therefore seems more and more likely that these deposits and protein aggregates are the effect and not the cause of the disease.
“In car accidents the airbags often deploy. If we only studied car wrecks we would notice deployed airbags in each car. We could easily reach a well-documented conclusion that airbags cause car accidents. But we know that the airbags appear as a result! We could face a similar situation in case of protein deposits – they could constitute an effect of another, still unknown process. If so, it is worthwhile to start searching for other mechanisms capable of triggering Alzheimer’s disease,” Prof. Wojda explains.
In their search for the causes of Alzheimer’s disease researchers from the new lab of the Neurobiology Center currently focus on studying lymphocytes (cells of the immune system) collected from patients. One of their main objectives is to determine whether Alzheimer’s disease is a systemic illness of distorted mechanisms of cell division. In this regard changes within the brain would only constitute the most visible effect of a disease of the entire organism. Should this hypothesis be positively verified, lymphocytes could be used in early diagnosis and drug screening.
The CePT project under which the Neurobiology Center has been established is the largest biomedical and biotechnological undertaking in Central and Eastern Europe. Under a project of the Warsaw Ochota district a network of interconnected core facilities is being established, integrating scientific and implementation activities of many research institutions. These labs worth over 388 million PLN are equipped to carry out basic and preclinical research at the highest European level in the area of protein structural and functional analysis, physical chemistry and nanotechnology of biomaterials, molecular biotechnology, aiding medical technologies, pathophysiology and physiology, oncology, genomics, neurobiology, and ageing related diseases.
The Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences has been established in 1918 and is the largest non-university centre for biological research in Poland. Priority fields for the Institute include neurobiology, neurophysiology, cellular biology and biochemistry and molecular biology – at the level of complexity from tissue organisms through cellular organelles to proteins and genes. There are 31 labs at the Institute, among them modern Laboratory of Confocal Microscopy, Laboratory of Cytometry, Laboratory of Electron Microscopy, Behavioural and Electrophysiological Tests. The Institute is equipped with state-of-the-art research equipment and modernized animal house, where lab animals are bred, also transgenic animals, in accordance with the highest standards. Quality of experiments, publications and close ties with the international science community, place the Institute among the leading biological research centres in Europe.
Prof. Urszula Wojda
Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology
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The Laboratory of Preclinical Studies of Higher Standard, the newest lab of the Neurobiology Center at the Nencki Institute in Warsaw, Poland, will conduct basic research aimed to explain molecular mechanisms responsible for neurodegenerative diseases. (Source: Nencki Institute, Grzegorz Krzyżewski)