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Building better models of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease

Amanda DiBattista
Program Director,
Division of Neuroscience (DN)

Every moment counts in the pursuit of effective preventions and treatments for age-associated diseases affecting the brain. Capturing the essence of how aging and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain without the need to wait for aging to take place in real time has been a long-standing obstacle for researchers. We’re excited to bring together scientists tackling this challenge for a virtual workshop April 27 and 28!

Innovation in research models

Longitudinal studies provide valuable insights, but they are costly and take decades to complete. To complement these longer-term studies, researchers have turned to creating models of brain aging, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and AD-related dementias to learn more about their underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. For example, there is an increased focus on developing better in silico (computer simulations or models based on real-life data) and in vitro (outside of a complete living organism, sometimes in a lab petri dish) models of brain aging and disease.

An ideal in silico model integrates data from large-scale human studies and research using animal and in vitro models to provide cheaper, faster simulations of what would otherwise require costly new experiments.

Diversifying models of brain aging

While in silico modeling is an emerging hot topic, in vitro advancements remain at the forefront of this field. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and other cell reprogramming approaches allow for the study of human cells “in a dish” by converting one type of cell to another (for example, skin cells to brain cells such as neurons and glia) via several intermediate steps. Scientists can then induce genetic manipulations to analyze their impact on these cell types and the relationship to human aging and disease.

NIA continues to invite applications using these approaches to learn more about brain aging and Alzheimer’s and related dementias (NOT-AG-21-052 via PAR-22-093 and PAR-22-094). We also participate in funding opportunity announcements aimed at developing new technologies in human cell-derived in vitro systems designed to replicate nervous system development, function, and aging (PAR-20-055/PAR-20-082).

Learn more at our virtual workshop April 27 and 28!

Participants in NIA’s virtual workshop on modeling basic mechanisms of brain aging in vitro and in silico, April 27 and 28, will further explore the connections between these vibrant research communities. We look forward to discussing the state of the science, including opportunities and challenges, in hopes of answering questions such as:

  • What can in vitro “AD-in-a-dish” or population-level “village-in-a-dish” approaches tell us about the underlying mechanisms driving brain aging and dementias?
  • To what extent are human cell reprogramming approaches such as iPSCs and brain organoids reflective of their donors’ age, neuropathology, and cognitive status?
  • How might in vitro research intersect with simulated models and computational approaches to understand mechanisms driving brain aging and Alzheimer’s in silico?
  • How can existing structures be leveraged to evaluate the neuroethical considerations accompanying this type of research?

We hope you can join us for this cutting-edge workshop! Please visit the event website for more details and to register, or leave a comment below.


Submitted by Becca Levy on April 13, 2022

Looks like a great event!

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