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Fight Neurodegenerative Diseases using Stem Cells and Microfluidics

Screenshot from BellBrook Lab

BellBrook Labs, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was recently awarded federal funding to develop a microscale system to accelerate discovery of more effective drugs for neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The research will focus on a novel approach for visualizing the transport of cellular machinery through neurons, a critical process that often becomes defective early in the course of neurodegenerative diseases.

The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded a Phase I Small Technology Transfer Research grant to BellBrook Labs and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to develop a microfluidic platform for high throughput imaging of neuronal transport. Transport of cellular cargo between cell bodies and nerve endings is critical to the function or neurons, and the process often becomes defective early in the course of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and multiple mclerosis. BellBrook and their UW collaborator, Dr. David Beebe, will leverage proprietary microchannel plate technology invented by Dr. Beebe to develop a high throughput microscopy platform for discovering drugs that prevent or rescue neuronal transport defects before irreversible damage occurs.

Neurodegenerative diseases that affect motor neurons such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis represent an enormous unmet medical need that is growing with the aging population. Existing treatments have little or no effect on the course of disease, and patients have to cope with the loss of brain and body function for the rest of their lives. Defects in the transport of cellular machinery and nutrients from the body of the neurons to nerve endings is a hallmark of early stage disease and is believed to be one of the underlying causes of eventual neuronal death. Discovery of drugs that prevent or rescue axonal transport defects is a compelling strategy for early intervention in neurodegeneration. However, the difficulty in tracking cargo movement through axons has prevented automated, high throughput screening of large numbers of potential drug molecules.

BellBrook and Dr. Beebe will use proprietary microchannel plate technology to pattern neurons in predictable ways, making it vastly simpler to track the movement of axonal cargoes and allowing the use of streamlined image acquisition that is scalable for high throughput screening. An important goal of the research is to closely replicate neurodegenerative disease biology as it actually occurs in the body. The team will use stem cell technology to produce different types of neural cells and combine them in a matrix of proteins and carbohydrates similar to the scaffolding that provides three dimensional support to cells in the brain. If successful, the research will provide a powerful tool for the discovery of drugs that slow or prevent neurodegeneration in a range of debilitating diseases.

Source: BellBrook Labs


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