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High-tech research yields better understanding of severe diseases

2010-10-12

Example of aggregation of the protein alpha synuclein, involved in dementia diseases, captured by an atomic force microscope.

Collaboration with the biotechnology and drug industries is helping scientists at Uppsala University better understand and alleviate neurological disorders. The focus is now foremost on Alzheimer’s disease and chronic pain.

Research at Uppsala Berzelii Technology Center for Neurodiagnostics addresses neurological disorders, and a major portion of the research targets Alzheimer’s disease. The disease has been researched for a long time, and it is known that proteins that lump together participate in the process of breaking down nerve cells. Now scientists want to find out why the proteins aggregate and find markers that signal that the process has started.

“It’s advanced basic research that makes use of nanotechnology, for instance, that is of interest to participating companies. It enables them to develop methods for early diagnosis and more targeted drugs,” says Fredrik Nikolajeff, who is a researcher at Ångström Laboratory and director of the center.

The center’s researchers are devising new types of sensitive analytical methods for use in studying the proteins in detail. Owing to collaboration with Uppsala University Hospital, researchers also have access to samples from patients.

“Since we can pair up technological development with clinical activities, we can more rapidly verify or reject various hypotheses,” explains Fredrik Nikolajeff.

The scientists are also attempting to understand the mechanisms behind chronic pain, which is a complex and thus far relatively little researched disease. A patient can have chronic pain even though an injury has healed. One possible explanation is that the brain has been set to signal pain.

“We haven’t yet found any clear patterns in protein changes, so we don’t have much to go by. But thanks to our collaboration with the Pain Clinic at University Hospital, we have built up a biobank that is being screened with the help of our new methods, and the hope is that we will find candidates for biomarkers in the near future,” says Fredrik Nikolajeff.

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Uppsala Berzelii Technology Center for Neurodiagnostics