Thursday, October 27, 2011

MIT researchers grow nerve connections; may lead to brain disease treatments

MIT scientists have devised a technique to grow nerve connections in a lab dish with the hope that one day the discovery could lead to new drugs to treat neurological disorders including autism and Alzheimer’s disease, according to information provided by MIT.

The idea behind the technique is to strengthen the synapses, or connections between the brain’s nerve cells or neurons, to treat brain diseases and the age-related decline of brain function. Each of the brain’s 100 billion neurons forms thousands of synapses with other neurons to rapidly share information, coordinate activities and achieve learning and memory. Breakdowns in the connections have been linked to neurological disorders and cognitive declines during normal aging.

The MIT research team devised a technique to grow synapses between cells in a lab dish under controlled conditions. They said that this may enable rapid, large-scale screens for potential new drugs. They have already identified several compounds that can strengthen synapses. They described their findings in the Oct. 25 online edition of Nature Communications. Such drugs could help compensate for the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s, said Mehmet Fatih Yanik, associate professor of electrical engineering at MIT and leader of the research team that published the paper.

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