One of the most common neurological disorders in the United States, Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans each year and is the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, slowed, or cured. While there are some treatments available that can help lessen the symptoms, the damage done by this degenerative disease is ultimately irreversible and incurable. However, recent discoveries are providing some hope.
Every day researchers are making new breakthroughs as they study the neural mechanisms that play a part in neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, gaining a better understanding of neurodegenerative disease development and possible treatment. For example, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently used the Chromium Single Cell Gene Expression Solution to identify specific sets of genes that are expressed in every major cell type in the prefrontal cortex in Alzheimer’s patients (1). The prefrontal cortex is involved in high-level thinking, decision making, and attention - all functions affected by the disease. This study provides the first blueprint for going after the molecular processes that are altered in Alzheimer’s disease.
And the key to new studies like this? Single cell technology. Named 2018’s Breakthrough of the Year by Science, single cell RNA sequencing technology enables researchers to measure transcriptome-wide gene expression on a cell-by-cell basis in order to characterize cell populations, cell types, cell states, and more. In neurological research, this meets a critical need, allowing scientists to unravel the complex networks of cells that drive both normal brain function and disease states, providing new insights into the mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Researchers are already making strides in the study of Alzheimer’s disease, demonstrating single cell technology’s potential to revolutionize the way we think about neurological health and disorders and giving hope to the millions of affected people around the world.
References and Additional Reading
- Mathys, Davila-Velderrain, Peng, Gao, Mohammadi, et al., Single-cell transcriptomic analysis of Alzheimer’s disease. Nature 2019 Jun;570(7761):332-337.