A new project funded in 2018 by the Dementia Australia Research Foundation, in conjunction with the Yulgilbar Alzheimer’s Research Program, presents an innovative strategy for diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The project was awarded a $500,000 Innovation Grant and will use a novel approach, combining technologies in stem cell research with artificial intelligence.
Professor Chennupati Jagadish from the Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University, has brought together an integrated team to study and find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
“This project brings together a multi-disciplinary team of early and mid-career researchers including neuroscientists, stem cell biologists, nanotechnologists and computer scientists to address this important problem faced by many in the society” Professor Jagadish said.
The team will develop ‘brain organoids’ or ‘mini-brains’ using stem cells taken from people living with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as individuals who don’t have the disease. The brain organoids derived from stem cells will essentially model brain function ‘in-the-dish’. The mini brains are grown for up to 6 months; after 100 days of growth the organoids show electrical activity similar to that seen in the human brain.
The cells will then be subjected to various types of stimulation. Artificial intelligence will be used to make sense of the data with the intention of identifying any functional difference between Alzheimer’s disease organoids and the brains that are not impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. The team is particularly interested in seeing if Alzheimer’s disease cells can become healthy again with stimulation.
This work is important as, to date, most research has been undertaken using animal models (namely mice and rats) which do not accurately reflect how Alzheimer’s disease presents in human brains. This research may also offer another way to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
“The first step in finding a cure or treatment of any disease is its understanding,” Professor Jagadish said.
“This project, which uses novel strategies to study and find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, is the first of its kind.”
The Dementia Australia Research Foundation is committed to funding high quality and game-changing Australian research. For many like Professor Jagadish and his team, this funding provides the support needed to transform the landscape of dementia research and find the medical breakthrough that we need.