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Alzheimer’s Insights

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"I look at the mechanistic interpretations of the data through mathematical modeling. Why does amyloid beta cause these waves? We know it does, but why?," asked bioengineering Ph.D. student Chris MacDonald, who shares the first author position on the related paper in ASN NEURO with Siu-Kei Chow (MS bioengineering, 2009) and Diana Yu (Ph.D. bioengineering, 2009).

New clues to what causes Alzheimer's disease could arise from a recent bioengineering discovery. The finding concerns the infamous amyloid beta peptides (AB) - fragments of which form plaques thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease. Bioengineering students from Gabriel Silva's Systems Neural Engineering and Theoretical Neuroscience lab discovered that amyloid beta peptides spontaneously trigger calcium waves in purified cultures of astrocyte cells extracted from the cortex region of rat brains and grown in the lab. These calcium waves could be relevant for understanding the origin of Alzheimer's disease: accumulated amyloid beta fragments and sustained disruption of the calcium balance within cells are leading hypotheses for what causes Alzheimer's disease.

The work also adds to researchers' understanding of astrocytes - a hot class of brain cells. Mounting evidence suggests that astrocytes in the brain's cortex do more than provide support to neurons.

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Neurons (green) and astrocytes (red) grown in culture. Astrocytes have become a hot research topic as evidence mounts suggesting that astrocytes in the brain's cortex do more than provide support to neurons.

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