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Could boosting brain cells' appetites fight disease? New research shows promise
Date:7/3/2014

Ph.D., the U-M neurologist and scientist who is first author of the new study, says the new findings are encouraging and so is the success of a microscope technique used in the research. His new lab, in the U-M Department of Neurology, is continuing to refine ways to view the inner workings of nerve cells.

"Using this new visualization technique, we could truly see how the protein was being cleared, and therefore which compounds could enhance the pace of clearance and shorten the half-life of TDP43 inside cells," he says. "This allowed us to see that increased autophagy was directly related to improved cell survival."

Barmada worked on the team at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California San Francisco headed by Steven Finkbeiner, M.D., Ph.D., that published the new findings. The team used stem cells derived from the cells of people who have ALS to grow neurons and astrocytes the two types of brain cell most crucial to normal brain function.

Because he both sees patients in clinic and studies neurological disease in the laboratory, Barmada brings a special perspective to the research.

At U-M, he specializes in treating patients who have neurological diseases that affect both thinking and muscle control. About a third of ALS patients develop signs of frontotemporal dementia, also called FTD and about 10 percent of people with FTD also have a motor neuron disease that affects their brain's ability to control muscle movement.

One of the drugs tested in the study, an antipsychotic drug developed in the 1960s to treat people with schizophrenia, had actually shown some anti-dementia promise in human ALS patients, but comes with many side effects. Barmada notes that Finkbeiner's team at the Gladstone Institute is already working to identify other compounds that could produce the effect with fewer side effects.

Interestingly, small studies have suggested that people with schizophrenia who take a
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert  

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