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

  • There is still a lot that 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 work and change as we age.
  • Experts hope the new Center’s findings will help create potential therapies for brain-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

For such an important organ in the body, there is still a lot we don’t know about the human brain. While we can understand what different areas of the brain do, much is still unknown as to how 86 billion neurons in the brain communicate with each other. And researchers are still working to find out how the brain changes through neurological disorders.

Now researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California are hoping to increase our knowledge of the brain through the launch of the Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas.

Researchers at the center intend to better understand how all of the single cells in the work of the brain and how they change as the body ages. They also hope to use their work to create potential therapies for brain-related diseases.

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

The Centre’s work is based on a five-year project called the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network aimed at mapping all the cells in a mouse’s brain and how they work together.

“Similar to the way we learned about space travel from short trips to the moon, the mouse brain mapping project taught us a lot about how to get closer to a much larger brain and the types of genomic information we would need to being able to truly map the human brain, ”explains Dr. Joseph Ecker, director of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory at the Salk Institute, a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and leader of the new Center.

“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. Ecker said.

Researchers at the center will study 1,500 brain samples from 50 regions of 30 human brains of various ages. From every cell in every brain region, scientists plan to isolate each nucleus – the part of the cell containing the genetic material of the cell. The researchers will also record the molecular details of each cell, including its own chromatin architecture – the 3D structure of cells chromosomes – And DNA methylationor how the cell’s DNA works when a specific chemical tag is added.

Medical News Today spoke with Dr. David W. Dodick, professor emeritus, distinguished researcher and distinguished educator at the Mayo Clinic, president of the American Brain Foundation and co-president of the Atria Academy of Science and Medicine, about the new project of Research.

“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 secrets of how the brain ages, as well as how changes over time in the genetic material and proteins produced lead to different diseases of the brain, ”said Dr. twelve. “This knowledge could facilitate the development of strategies and treatments that prevent, cure and cure brain diseases.”

For its research, the Center will focus primarily on epigenetics. Epigenetics, which means “beyond changes in the genetic sequence”, studies any process that modifies gene activity without physically altering the DNA.

As discussed above, DNA methylation is an example of an epigenetic change. Epigenetic changes occur over the course of a person’s life due to certain 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.

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

According to Dr. Santosh Kesari, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and regional medical director of the Research Clinical Institute of Providence Southern California, the study of epigenetics offers a broader way of looking gene expression – the process in which our genes “turn on” to produce RNA And cellular proteins or turn off “off” to perform a different function.

“It’s a more complex analysis because it gives us a global view,” he explained MNT. “It tells you which genes are turned on, which genes are turned off and at what level. And then we can use it to figure out which genes can be associated with diseases. And it really immediately gives us ideas on how to possibly influence the disease by modulating particular genes ”.

By having a better understanding of how all cells in the brain work, the Center’s researchers intend to use this information to establish a baseline that scientists can use to compare the brain with neurological and psychological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, autism. depression and traumatic brain injuries.

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

“We have understood the disorders to some extent with imaging and mass analysis of brains or areas of the brain, but I think we will learn even more,” said Dr. Kesari added. “The reality is that there are many different types of cells in the brain. In the lesion area or Alzheimer’s plaque area, what happens in that microenvironment and how (do) those cells contribute to causing the disease. But now (if) you can study every single cell, so you could get very unexpected information and lead to better treatment options and ideas. “

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