Study increases the standard for measuring the death of nerve cell

Improving screening of experimental therapies for neurodegenerative disease.


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Using a new method developed at UBC‘s Okanagan campus, scientists can now judge the efficiency of experimental therapies for neurodegeneration.

Scientists have specifically designed the method to measure the degeneration of sensory neurons grown in a lab. It is software-assisted, allowing scientists to measure nerve cell densities more precisely.

Postdoctoral fellow Aaron Johnstone said, “Neurons–or nerve cells–are hugely important to our daily lives. These specialized cells collect and process the large amounts of information that enter our bodies via our senses, control our muscles and organs, and form our thoughts and memories. When these cells become unhealthy, it leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, ALS, glaucoma and chronic pain.”

“The variability in nerve cell lengths, densities and shapes have traditionally made it difficult to reliably analyze their health. This, in turn, has generated confusion about the effectiveness of potential pharmacological or genetic treatments.”

Scientists grew nerve cells in a lab environment. They then established healthy neurons and mimicked the conditions that cause neurodegeneration. Using fluorescent microscopy, the system captured neuron loss.

Johnstone suggests that objective measurement is essential to developing new medicines.

“This procedure makes evaluating new treatment options, like drugs or gene therapies, far more accurate and trustworthy.”

Journal Reference

  1. Johnstone, A. D., Hallett, R. M., Carturan, B., Gibon, J., & Barker, P. A. (2018). A novel method for quantifying axon degeneration. PLOS ONE, 13(7), e0199570. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199570


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