Scientists developed a computer simulation of how clumps of defective proteins in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer are spread through the brain.
The modelling of neurodegenerative disorders will help in diagnostic tests and aid in the treatment of such diseases. The findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters on October 12, 2018 by Ellen Kuhl, mechanical engineer at Stanford University, and Johannes Weickenmeier of the Stevens Institute of Technology and Alain Goriely of Oxford University.
The simulation developed is mainly for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). However, the researchers hope that their innovative technique could be applied to work for other brain disorders such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other brain-protein mishaps.
The researchers analyzed brain slices from people who died developing one of the diseases under their observation. Using computer simulation, the pair demonstrated the mechanism of the two forms of Alzheimer’s disease and the mannerism of its spreading over a 30-year period.
“What our model does is connect the dots between the static data points, mathematically, to show disease progression in unprecedented detail, said Kuhl. For Alzheimer’s disease, the pair of researchers modeled the progression of two misfolding proteins – known as tau and amyloid beta – which change shape and form toxic clumps in the brains of people with the disease.
“The real challenge is that cell death from toxic proteins occurs years, if not decades, before the first symptoms begin to show. We have to find new ways to spur research toward diagnostics and interventions, and computer modeling can play a key role in identifying new therapeutic targets,” added Kuhl.