$126M NIH grant to help map the brain, study diseases like Alzheimer’s

  • There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about the human brain.
  • The Salk Institute recently launched the Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas to better understand how brain cells function and change as we age.
  • Experts hope the results from the new center will help develop potential therapies for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

For such an important organ in the body, there’s still quite a bit we don’t know about the human brain. While we may understand what different areas of the brain do, much is still unknown about how it works 86 billion Neurons in the brain communicate with each other. And researchers are still working to uncover how the brain changes as a result of neurological disorders.

Now, researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, hope to advance our knowledge of the brain by launching the Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas.

Center researchers plan to better understand how all of this is happening single cells in brain work and how they change as the body ages. They also hope to use their work to develop potential therapies for brain disorders.

The new Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas is reportedly part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN initiative. It is funded by a five-year, $126 million grant from the NIH.

The center’s work builds on a five-year project called the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network, which aims to map all the cells in a mouse brain and how they work together.

“Similar to how we learned about space travel on short trips to the moon, the mouse brain mapping project taught us a lot about how to approach a much larger brain and what types of genomic information we would need to be able to truly map it.” human brain,” explains Dr. Joseph Ecker, director of the Salk Institute’s Genome Analysis Laboratory, researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and director of the new center.

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“This project is an example of how fruitful teamwork in science can be – these types of projects cannot be done in a single laboratory,” said Dr. corner

The center’s researchers will examine 1,500 brain samples from 50 regions of 30 human brains of different ages. Scientists plan to isolate every cell in every brain region core — the part of the cell that contains the cell’s genetic material. Researchers will also record the molecular details of each cell, including theirs chromatin Architecture – the 3D structure of the cell chromosomes – and DNA methylationor how the cell’s DNA behaves when a specific chemical label is added to it.

Medical News Today spoke to Dr. David W. Dodick, Professor Emeritus, Distinguished Researcher and Distinguished Educator at the Mayo Clinic, Chair of the American Brain Foundation and Co-Chair of the Atria Academy of Science and Medicine, on the new research project.

“This collaborative interdisciplinary research will use some of the most advanced methods to identify the molecular signature of each brain cell and promises to unlock the mysteries of brain aging, as well as the changes over time in the genetic material and proteins produced to various brain diseases.” said Dr. dodick “This knowledge could facilitate the development of strategies and treatments to prevent, treat and cure brain diseases.”

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The center will reportedly focus primarily on its research epigenetics. Epigenetics, meaning “in addition to changes in the genetic sequence,” studies any process that alters gene activity without physically altering DNA.

As discussed above, DNA methylation is an example of an epigenetic change. Epigenetic changes occur throughout a person’s lifetime due to specific environmental changes or behaviors such as physical activity and diet. Your genes can also change due to aging and certain diseases, such as cancer and infections.

“Essentially, we want to take millions, even hundreds of millions of brain cells, learn all about their epigenetics and how theirs chromatin is arranged and projects them into a spatial context so that we can see where these cells live and understand how all cells are organized in each brain region and at each age,” Ecker said. “Currently we have almost no data for the human brain.”

according to dr Santosh Kesari, a neurologist at the Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and regional medical director for the Research Clinical Institute of Providence Southern California, the study of epigenetics offers a broader perspective gene expression – the process by which our genes “turn on” to produce RNA and cellular proteins or turn it “off” to perform another function.

“It’s a more complex analysis because it gives us a global view,” he explained MNT. “It tells you which genes are on, which genes are off, and at what level. And then we can use that to find out which genes can be linked to diseases. And it really gives us ideas straight away as to how we might be able to influence the disease by modulating certain genes.”

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By gaining a better understanding of how all cells in the brain work, the center’s researchers plan to use this information to create a baseline that scientists can use to diagnose brains with neurological and psychological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, autism, depression and traumatic brain injury. to compare .

“The brain map we developed could help disease researchers point in the right direction – for example, we could say, ‘This is the region of genome, in that specific subset of neurons, in that part of the brain, where a molecular event goes wrong to cause this disease,’” Ecker elaborates. “And ultimately, this information could help us design gene therapies that target only the cell populations where treatment is needed — and get the right genes to the right place at the right time.”

“We’ve understood the disorders to some extent through imaging and mass analysis of brains or brain areas, but I think we’ll learn more,” added Dr. Added Kesari. “The reality is that there are many different types of cells in the brain. What happens in the area of ​​injury or in the area of ​​Alzheimer’s plaque, what happens in this microenvironment and how these cells contribute to the development of diseases is unknown. But now (if) you can examine every single cell, you may get very unexpected insights that lead to better treatments and ideas.”

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