The development of Alzheimer's disease and the way it spreads throughout the brain will be the focus of a pioneering study conducted at Aston University (UK).
Dr Eric Hill, of the Aston Centre for Healthy Ageing, will lead the investigation into the behaviour of tau proteins, which are thought to cause the disease when they accumulate and become tangled in the central nervous system.
A major aim of the study, funded by a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) £95,453 grant, is to establish ways to reduce the number of animals used in pharmacological testing.
At present, the analysis of tau proteins, one of the most active areas of Alzheimer's research, often requires the use of hundreds of animals, is time consuming and expensive and can produce results that may not translate beneficially to humans.
Aston's impending study will develop a research method based upon testing human stem cells instead of transgenic mice. It is hoped this new procedure will help scientists predict with greater accuracy the effectiveness of the latest drugs intended to combat the onset of Alzheimer's.
Dr Hill said: "This project, which will be run in partnership with Alzheimer's Research UK, could help completely transform the study of tau pathology. Not only could the study result in an increased understanding of the causes of the disease and how to successfully treat it, but it may also lead to pharmaceutical companies reducing by many thousands the number of transgenic mice they use per year in Alzheimer's research."
The investigation is part of the NC3R's nationwide CRACK IT Challenge Competition to develop new technologies and approaches which replace or reduce the need for animals in research and testing. Aston University is one of 17 institutions awarded grant money to take part in the initiative.