Using botox to investigate the spread of tau in Alzheimer’s disease

Research project: Modulation of the spread of pathological tau by botulinum neurotoxins

Lead Investigator:  Professor Giampietro Schiavo

  • Institution:  University College London
  • Grant type:  PhD Studentship
  • Duration:  36 months
  • Amount:  £90,999

Why did we fund this research? 

The spread of tau is probably one of the most significant events in the progression of dementia and this project aims to directly tackle this.

Project summary 

Researchers believe that the widespread accumulation and spread of tau causes brain cells to die. Yet, it remains unclear how tau travels between nerve cells. 

Professor Schiavo will use a natural substance, produced by bacteria, to provide insight into the mechanisms involved in the spread of tau and identify potential new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The background  

The build-up of a toxic protein, known as tau, is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. When tau accumulates in a nerve cell, it causes that cell to die.

Researchers believe that tau aggregates can travel across nerve cells. This causes widespread death of nerve cells and will affect many areas of the brain. However, we still don’t understand how tau moves between the cells.   

Professor Schiavo aims to investigate the mechanisms that allow tau to spread. This could ultimately help us identify new ways of stopping the widespread cell death that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. 

What does this project involve? 

The project will investigate these mechanisms using natural substances produced by bacteria.

These are known as botulinum neurotoxins and they work by preventing communication between nerve cells.

The researchers will investigate how the spread of tau changes in the presence of the toxins. They will explore this in nerve cells and a mouse model of the disease, both of which will mimic features of Alzheimer’s disease.

How will this project help people with dementia? 

Professor Schiavo’s work could advance our understanding of how tau travels across nerve cells. This could provide insight into potential new therapies for the disease, such as botulinum neurotoxins. 

Botulinum neurotoxins are already used in the clinic for a number of purposes, from the treatment of chronic migraine to cosmetic applications. This project could explore whether ‘repurposing’ this therapy could be effective in Alzheimer’s disease. 

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