Repairing nerve cell connections lost in Alzheimer’s disease

imageDr. Leigh Anne Swayne (pictured left) has received a $100,000 Proof of Concept Grant co-funded by Alzheimer Society of Canada and Brain Canada for a project titled “Repairing nerve cell connections in Alzheimer's disease.”

During brain development, the structures involved in creating connections between nerve cells are highly dynamic. It’s the stabilization of these connections that allows for the formation of nerve circuits that are integral to proper brain function. However, these structural components can be destabilized early in Alzheimer’s disease, leading to a loss of nerve cell connections. This loss is thought to underlie some of the difficulties with memory and cognition seen in this neurological condition.

In this project, the Swayne Lab will study processes implicated in the destabilization of nerve cell connections. They will also evaluate strategies that could help preserve those connections in the context of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

imageThis project is the focus of Adriana Casillas Martinez (pictured right), a new master’s student in the lab who completed her undergrad at the University of Mondragón in Basque Country. “I have always been interested in neuroscience, and I am very passionate about understanding how the brain works and being able to contribute to research on neurological diseases. So, I am particularly motivated and excited to carry out a project related to the neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s disease,” she says. Adriana is using primary cell tri-culturing and calcium imaging techniques to understand how dendritic spines respond to the pathological stimulus of Alzheimer’s disease and how these responses could be altered by targeting pannexin 1 channels.

The Proof-of-Concept Grant was awarded through the Alzheimer Society Research Program, which funds dementia research in Canada. The program funds research across eight priority areas, including care, cause, therapy, and treatment. In 2023, the Alzheimer Society Research Program invested $5,989,000 in 44 researchers and their projects. This funding of nearly $6 million is up from $3.5 million in 2022, thanks to generous donors and funding partners, including Brain Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Aging, and Research Manitoba. 

Dr. Stephanie Willerth, who is a cross-appointed research faculty member in the UVic Division of Medical Sciences, is a co-investigator on the project.