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2015 Grants - Chen
In Vivo Regenerating Functional Neurons in Alzheimer’s Model
Gong Chen, Ph.D.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
2015 Zenith Fellows Award
By the time Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed, most patients have already experienced significant loss of nerve cells in the brain. Although recent studies suggest that some new nerve cells can be generated in the brain even in adults, this regeneration occurs only to a limited degree in certain regions, and involves only a small number of nerve cell types.
The brain also contains other types of cells, known as glial cells, which have traditionally been thought to play a supportive role in the brain. Recently, Gong Chen, Ph.D., and colleagues developed a new method allowing them to convert certain types of glial cells into nerve cells in specific regions of the brain. This method involves injection of a modified virus that reprograms the glial cells to become functional nerve cells.
Dr. Chen and colleagues have proposed a series of studies using this method to determine how reprograming glial cells affects disease progression in mice genetically engineered to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition. These studies will determine if conversion of glial cells to nerve cells in the brains of living mice can replace nerve cells lost to the Alzheimer’s disease process. The researchers plan to focus on a specific region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is essential to memory function and particularly vulnerable to early damage in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers will determine if increasing the number of functional nerve cells in the hippocampus helps improve cognitive function in the Alzheimer’s-like mice. These studies will explore a novel treatment strategy for potentially restoring brain function, which could lead to the future development of therapies for people already showing irreversible brain changes and clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.