What can stem cells teach us about inflammation?

Research project: Non cell autonomous Alzheimer’s disease in iPSC derived cells – astrocyte reactivity and APP signalling.

Lead Investigator: Dr Charles Arber

  • Institution: University College London
  • Grant type: Junior Fellowship
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £224,932.46

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

‘This is an exciting piece of research and Dr Arber is an enthusiastic researcher with a clear direction for his research to develop’.

Project summary

This project involves using skin cells which have been donated by people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Arber will convert these vital cells into stem cells which can then stimulated to develop into different types of brain cells. Dr Arber will explore how these different types of brain cells react to the build-up of toxic amyloid protein.

The background

We know that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the death of brain cells. What we don’t know for sure is why these brain cells are dying. Amyloid is a protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This study will examine whether this amyloid build up might cause brain cells to die.

What does this project involve?

Dr Arber will examine the interactions between brain cells.  In particular he will focus on the star-shaped, support cells of the brain – astrocytes. He will determine how these cells react to amyloid protein build up and whether their reaction might cause damage to the brain.

He will consider if Amyloid has an effect on the genetics of the astrocytes or if it have a toxic effect that causes astrocytes to react? With so little known about these difficult to study cells, Dr Arber’s work will shed much needed light on this area of research.

To do this Dr Arber will take skin cells donated by people who are currently living with Alzheimer’s. Using specialised genetic and biomedical techniques he will turn back the biological clock to convert them back from skin cells into stem cells. These stem cells have the potential to turn into any type of cell in the body. Next we will begin the careful process of guiding these cells to become both brain cells and astrocytes.

Dr Arber is particularly interested in looking at ways that brain cells and astrocytes affect other cells without affecting themselves. He believes that astrocytes are the first cells to react to the early stages of Alzheimer’s and they signal other cells to become activated in an inflammatory response. This response can go on to cause damage to the brain and brain cells to die. .

How will this project help people with dementia?

Dr Arber’s research will help us to better understand the very earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. This better understanding could help in the search for new targets to use as biomarkers for diagnosis or as options to treat or slow down the condition.