New model to study Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s may help pinpoint disease mechanisms

Dr. Cara CroftIn a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, a team led by Cara Croft, Ph.D., has demonstrated a novel method using viruses and mouse brain slice cultures to model Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease pathologies and seek potential therapeutic targets.

“We’ve been able to set up simple models where we keep tissues alive and then use noninfectious viruses to express genes that are related to these diseases,” said Croft, a postdoctoral research associate in UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease. “Then we start to see the protein clump buildup and eventually the cell loss like you see in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.”

The study, published in February under the mentorship of McKnight Brain Institute Director Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D., may help pinpoint mechanisms underlying the process of neurodegeneration.

Croft noted that using the new model, disease-relevant changes can been seen progressively within 28 days in culture, which could spawn new experiments that shed light on what causes the proteins tau or alpha-synuclein to accumulate and how it leads to cell death.

“One of the problems in the past with studying these diseases is that we’ve not had simple models to look at all the cell types and be able to examine these protein clumps in all of the cell types,” Croft said. “In the past we’d use animal models which can take six or 12 months and they involve lots of money and people and effort to be able to see whether a drug might have an effect. Whereas in this system, within two to four weeks we can start screening new treatments or genes that might change this protein buildup in order to see whether we might have a potential treatment in the future.”

Croft’s research was partially supported by funding from her BrightFocus Foundation fellowship.

Click here to read the article in the Journal for Experimental Medicine.