Cambridge researchers awarded £100k to build ‘super microscope’

Scientists are building a unique microscope that could aid the development of new Alzheimer’s drugs.

Posted on 24th April 2012

Researchers in Cambridge are building a unique, state-of-the-art microscope that could aid the development of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, thanks to funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK. The award of £96,864 will allow scientists at the University of Cambridge to develop a tailor-made ‘super-resolution’ microscope capable of revealing the fine detail of proteins that are linked to the disease.

The scientists are studying a protein called amyloid, which occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and forms sticky clumps that are toxic to brain cells. Finding a way to stop amyloid formation is a key goal for many Alzheimer’s researchers, and the team in Cambridge will use their microscope to gain insights into the molecular mechanisms of the disease.

Led by Prof Clemens Kaminski, the researchers have already developed a microscope capable of detecting clumps of amyloid that are 10,000 times smaller than a pinhead, but so far the equipment can only view the protein inside dead cells. With the latest funding, they plan to adapt the microscope to examine amyloid and other proteins inside living cells, enabling them to track the build-up of these proteins in real time.

By examining this process in such detail, they hope to gain an understanding of how amyloid changes into its toxic form. The scientists also hope to observe how different chemical compounds act on these proteins – the first step in the process of designing effective new drugs.

The team expects to have the microscope ready for use within a year. Because it’s not possible to buy the equipment commercially, it’s likely to be in high demand, potentially speeding up the progress of numerous dementia research projects.

Prof Kaminski, of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge, said:
“We’re extremely pleased to have secured this funding, which will ensure that dementia scientists in Cambridge will have a unique piece of equipment that will be an enormous boost to our research. We are embedded in a team of researchers from a range of disciplines, including biologists, physicists and engineers, and by pooling our expertise, we aim to tailor this machine so that we’ll be able to answer specific and important questions that are outstanding in Alzheimer’s research.

“Dementia can only be defeated through research, and we hope our work will reveal new information that could aid the development of new therapies.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We’re delighted to be funding this project, which promises to be a real aid to dementia research in Cambridge. By increasing our understanding of the proteins that are involved in Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia, we should be better placed to design new treatments that can tackle these diseases.

“There are over 6,000 people in Cambridgeshire affected by dementia, yet we still lack treatments that can fight the condition. If we are to find new treatments that are so urgently needed, it’s vital to invest in research like this.”

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