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Neuroinflammation and Neurodegeneration

27 Apr 2023

Neuroinflammation, the inflammatory response centralised within the brain and spinal cord, plays an integral role in neurodegenerative diseases.

In neurodegenerative diseases, there is a progressive loss of structure and function of the neurones, ultimately resulting in neuronal death and associated loss of abilities such as movement and cognition.

Research carried out at the University of Edinburgh involving both laboratory and clinical approaches studies the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and repair in a range of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, Parkinson's, dementias and degenerative eye conditions. The research includes a focus on the involvement of cells resident within the nervous system, namely neurons, astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes, which can result in neurodegeneration. The researchers’ ultimate aim is to identify novel protective or regenerative therapies for neurodegenerative disease.

The University of Edinburgh hosts a number of centres of excellence in neurodegeneration, with those focusing on neuroinflammation and disease being the UK Dementia Research Institute (UKDRI) at Edinburgh and the MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research.

The UKDRI at Edinburgh is funded by the UKDRI. The research focuses on understanding how all the different cell types in our brains work together to keep the brain healthy; how this goes wrong in dementia; and how this process can be altered to slow or stop disease progression. Interactions within and between the brain vasculature, neurons, macroglia and microglia control the trajectory of neurodegenerative disorders that lead to dementia, investigating these interactions will allow the researchers to exploit their findings for therapeutic benefit. A range of specialised techniques and models are used to unravel how these finely-tuned interactions are disturbed even before a person displays specific signs or symptoms of dementia – and how changes are involved in driving disease progression – which will open new avenues for the development of novel therapies.

The MS Society Edinburgh Centre, founded in 2007, brings together research expertise in multiple sclerosis (MS) from across the University of Edinburgh, looking at cells in culture, through to zebrafish and the human patient. MS is a chronic debilitating demyelinating disease of the central nervous system, resulting in the progressive loss of myelin sheath on neuronal axons. This leads to a loss of functionality that includes both cognitive and motor impairment, depending on the location of the lesion. Research at Edinburgh has a strong focus on understanding the role of oligodendrocytes - the cells in the central nervous system responsible formation of the myelin sheath - in disease, and how to promote repair in chronic disease through the activation of specific populations of cells. This approach will lead to a greater understanding of neurodegeneration in progressive MS and the creation of a drug discovery pipeline involving tests to screen drugs that may prevent neurodegeneration.

The state-of-the-art imaging facilities at Edinburgh are used together with novel quantitative and physiological neuroimaging techniques developed within the MS Society Edinburgh Centre to improve the ways in which brain imaging can be used in people with MS to measure neurodegeneration and test the effectiveness of drugs in clinical trials. Edinburgh is a clinical site involved in the Octopus clinical trial, a revolutionary study that is the first multi-arm, multi-stage trial for progressive MS, using MRI as an early outcome measure.

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Find out how you can work with the University’s world-class inflammation expertise and state of the art facilities that will provide the solution to your research questions.