Research Projects

Investigating individual brain cell responses to disease

Awarded to:
Dr Emmanuelle Vire

Current award:

MRC Prion Unit at UCL

1 October 2021 - 30 September 2023

Full project name:

Single-cell transcriptomics of mammalian prion diseases






Researchers at University College London will study how brains are affected by prion diseases using cutting edge technology to look at individual cells

Proteins are long molecular chains that fold in particular ways to give their own unique shape and function.

In some diseases, proteins can fold differently and then cause damage to our cells. Prion diseases are caused by misfolded proteins. They affect brain cells and cause damage in a similar way to Alzheimer’s disease, which is caused by two different misfolded proteins, amyloid and tau.

The team at University College London, led by Dr Emmanuelle Vire, are investigating what happens to brain cells in people who had prion diseases. They have developed a method to look at individual brain cells which will allow them to see how cells affected by disease differ to healthy cells. To do this the team are using a cutting-edge technology called single cell sequencing.

They tested the technology in animal models of prion diseases and had encouraging results. Now they have received a pilot project grant to test their single cell sequencing method with human brain cells with the hope that the technology can provide a foundation for future long-term projects.

Comparing differences between brain cells using this method could undercover a process or gene that is affected by prion diseases that could also play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The data collected will help scientists understand how brain cells are affected by disease caused by misfolded proteins and what makes these cells different to healthy cells. If successful, the method can be used to further our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia and identify potential drug targets.

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