In vitro research models show potential for Alzheimer's disease therapies

Anna Vod · March 11, 2024 · Short URL:

Cell culture models, organoids, microfluidic systems, and more developments in search for a cure

There are about 6.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, according to a 2023 report by the Alzheimer's Association. Yet Alzheimer’s disease, one of the top causes of dementia, has no cure or treatment today. Ultimately, this progressive disease, caused by damage to neurons in the brain, is fatal.

Contrary to a common belief, Alzheimer’s is not actually a normal part of aging and is not inevitable. While normal brain aging may involve slower processing speeds, cognitive skills, memory, and knowledge should remain intact in a healthy senior human. There are ways to help maintain brain health, and in the meantime, the hunt for a cure for Alzheimer’s continues with vigor among both established and new biotech companies.

In search for effective therapies, medical researchers have been studying Alzheimer’s via a number of in vitro models, among other ways. In vitro testing involves using an organism’s cells outside of their biological environment – in other words, in a lab dish or test tube.

In vitro approaches in Alzheimer research

Among these in vitro models is the cellular model, where researchers use cell cultures from human neurons or other relevant cell types, to mimic key aspects of Alzheimer's disease pathology. This process allowed scientists to investigate how the building blocks of abnormal structures present in an Alzheimer’s brain – called amyloid-beta and tau proteins – accumulate and function.

Most importantly, this led to the testing of potential therapeutic compounds on these two major signs of the disease. One approach (and a big breakthrough) has been the discovery of compounds that reduce amyloid beta and tau in neurons; some of these solutions went through to clinical trials with patients.

Then there is the microfluidic systems model for in vitro research, which involves the recreation of the environment of the brain’s cellular networks. These systems enable the study of neuronal connectivity, synapse formation, and the spread of pathological proteins like amyloid-beta and tau. They also facilitate the screening of potential therapeutic compounds by exposing cells to precise microenvironments and stimuli.

There are also the organoid model, where stem cells grow to mimic the architecture of the brain and replicate the complex cellular interactions and pathological changes, and the gene editing model, where scientists apply genetic mutations to cell cultures or organoids.

Technologies & tools facilitate research

A number of companies provide technology and tools to facilitate in vitro lab research and testing. One of the established ones is Thermo Fisher Scientific, based in Waltham, MA. For Alzheimer's disease research specifically, Thermo Fisher Scientific offers cell culture media, supplements, and reagents that are essential for growing and maintaining neuronal cell lines, primary neurons, and brain organoids.

Further, Thermo Fisher operates high-content imaging systems to visualize the processes in Alzheimer's disease models. These imaging systems help in studying protein aggregation, neuronal function, and drug effects in vitro. Its other offerings include protein analysis tools, molecular biology reagents, antibodies and assays for detecting relevant biomarkers, and more.

Germany’s Merck KGaA is another biotech giant taking strides in this direction. Plus, there are Waltham-based PerkinElmer, which provides advanced imaging and detection systems, microplate readers, and assay kits for in vitro research applications, and Hercules, CA-based Bio-Rad, which offers cell culture media, transfection reagents, western blotting systems, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) instruments.

Among the newer providers in the field is eNuvio, a Canada-based biotech company that makes microfabricated devices for life science research in the academic and pharmaceutical spheres.

Operating since 2016, eNuvio boasts a unique workplace environment where cleanroom and cell culture facilities exist side-by-side. It sells both ready-made and custom microfabricated devices, from microfluidic devices for neuronal cell cultures and compartmentalization to 3D cell culture technologies for spheroids and 3D skeletal muscle.

In a commentary on the Alzheimer’s disease, eNuvio wrote: “With each study, we move one step closer to discovering more effective treatments and, hopefully, a cure. Together, we can improve the lives of those affected by this disease and work toward a world without Alzheimer's.”

To conclude, in vitro research plays a crucial role in unraveling the complexities of Alzheimer's disease, providing valuable insights into its underlying mechanisms and potential therapeutic strategies. Through cell culture models, organoids, microfluidic systems, and various technologies, researchers can mimic key aspects of Alzheimer's pathology, explore novel targets, and screen potential drug candidates in a controlled laboratory setting. With both established players and new providers in the field, we strive towards a world without Alzheimer’s.


Image: Wowzer AI

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