A renewed focus on neurodegenerative disease research

A renewed focus on neurodegenerative disease research

Health Europa places a special focus on the projects funded through the EU Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), the largest international research initiative which aims to address neurodegenerative diseases.

Neurodegenerative diseases encompass a range of conditions that predominantly affect the neurons within the brain. As the foundations of the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, neurons are essential, but complication lies in their inability to reproduce or replace themselves. Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable, resulting in the progressive degeneration or death of these nerve cells, subsequently leading to complications with movement – under the ataxia group – or mental function – those encompassed by the dementias classification. Here, Health Europa Quarterly places a special focus on the projects funded through the EU Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), the largest international research initiative which aims to address neurodegenerative diseases.

A call to address a global health crisis

Under the 2017 Pathway Analysis call from the EU Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, ten research projects have been selected for funding. The projects will perform network analyses in efforts to understand the underlying mechanisms which are involved in neurodegenerative diseases. These include:

  • The Biological Resource Analysis to Identify New Mechanisms and Phenomena in Neurodegenerative Diseases (BRAIN-MEND);
  • HEROES: The locus coeruleus: at the crossroads of dementia syndromes;
  • LocalMND: Motor Neuron Disorders;
  • LODE: Loss of neurotrophic factors in neurodegenerative Dementias: Back to the crossroads of proteins;
  • NEURONODE: Systems Analysis of Key Nodes in the Neurodegenerative Diseases;
  • Protest-70: Protecting protein homeostasis in synucleinopathies and tauopathies by modulating the Hsp70/co-chaperone network;
  • RNA-NEURO: Systems Analysis of novel small non-coding RNA in neuronal stress responses: Towards Novel Biomarkers and Therapeutics for Neurodegenerative Disorders;
  • TransNeuro: Altered mRNA as a pathogenic mechanism across neurodegenerative diseases; and
  • TransPathND: Intraneuronal transport-related pathways across neurodegenerative diseases.

Featuring research teams from 14 countries, the ten projects will conduct a combined analysis of neurodegenerative diseases across clinical boundaries, technologies and disciplines, in efforts to reach groundbreaking scientific insights and updated definitions of clinical phenotypes. Ultimately, these outcomes will contribute to innovative approaches which will shape the future treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Finding a solution to mend the brain

The BRAIN-MEND project aims to use cutting-edge genetics and epigenetics in order to establish the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. Ultimately, these findings will be used to inform new drug treatments. Led by project co-ordinator Ammar Al-Chalabi of Kings College London, UK, BRAIN-MEND aims to dissect differing neurodegenerative diseases, enhance understanding of the variations of these diseases, and ensure ease of development for new treatments.

The stress effect: early- and adult-life stress and the brain epigenome

Following on from human epidemiological and animal experimentation studies which revealed that prenatal negative conditions influence the appearance of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, in turn revealing risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, the EpiAD project aims to determine whether, and in which ways, early-life stress may precipitate those dementias which are linked to Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).

Through comparison of the epigenetic chances in Alzheimer’s and T2DM, the EpiAD project hopes to gain insightful data in terms of the pathological changes across the pathologies and lifespan. As a result, the project hopes to improve the age of Alzheimer’s risk diagnoses, with subsequent effect upon patient quality of life and social and economic impact.

The HEROES of neurodegenerative disease R&D

Led by Mara Dierssen of the Instituto Hospital del Mar de Investigaciones Mèdicas (IMIM), Barcelona, Spain, the HEROES project works under the objective of identifying the common mechanisms of Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

From making this identification, HEROES hopes to find causes and develop cures, as well as identifying improved methods for the care of neurodegenerative disease patients. Harnessing biomarkers and PET studies, the project will investigate the clinical phenotypes of noradrenergic degeneration in patients.

This article will appear in issue 5 of Health Europa Quarterly, which will be published in May.

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