TSSG researchers provide new hope for Alzheimer’s patients

1 Jun 2017

Image: Ocskay Mark/Shutterstock

Researchers at TSSG in Ireland’s south-east are conducting research into rewiring the brain to cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Combining nanotechnology and biotechnology, researchers at TSSG at Waterford Institute of Technology are on the brink of discovering a new way of treating Alzheimer’s.

The news comes on the heels of researchers at Trinity College Dublin discovering the hidden secrets of how Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s form in the brain.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death for all ages and the fifth-leading cause of death for those over the age of 65. It carries a cost of $226bn in the US alone.

Until now, treatment has come in the form of symptom-preventing drugs that neglect the progression of the disease.

A team led by Michael Barros at TSSG have found that nanoparticles can potentially bypass the blood-brain barrier and, if combined with biotechnology and how problems are solved on computer and telecoms networks, a new approach could be found to treat – and potentially cure – the disease.

A different approach

Barros explained that the main cause of Alzheimer’s is the lack of glutamate in the tripartite synapse, which is the three-way molecular communication between neurons and astrocytes.

Poor synaptic transmission leads to lack of memory, depression, bad sleep and more.

“I am studying the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but in a different way,” Barros told Siliconrepublic.com.

“I see it as a communication problem, like the problems we have in computer networks or telecoms networks.

“But, for that to be successful and look at finding a new treatment for Alzheimer’s, I have to model it. So, my work in my first year here as a postdoc researcher is to model my theory in a mathematical environment.”

If we can fix networking problems, can we then fix the wiring of the brain?

“That’s it. I look into different aspects that envelop this communications problem. The particular problem that triggers Alzheimer’s is the deficiency of glutamate, and that inhibits the proper communication of the neurons.

“So, we have a third cell, which are called astrocytes, and this third cell signals the glutamates into an environment that enables transmission of the neurons or the neural synapses.”

In this way, Barros believes that regulating the signalling of astrocytes in the tripartite synapse will provide sufficient levels of glutamate to control the quality of synaptic transmission.

He said this is not only applicable to Alzheimer’s, but also to other neurodegenerative diseases because it enables a new way of maintaining the stability and health of brain tissues, using nanotech and network engineering principles.

“Once I have all the correct background ready, and I have enough evidence that supports my claims, I will endeavour to develop a new drug or a new treatment.

“It could also result in multiple devices in the brain that we can control from the internet. We are looking at different ways to implement it to go further and be a product in the market,” Barros concluded.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years