‘We can basically consider ourselves a world leader’: Researcher excited by Lethbridge’s new neuroscience lab

A state-of-the-art optical imaging lab in the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience is providing the University of Lethbridge with new insight into neurological disorders, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Lethbridge unveiled its new neuroscience facility on Thursday.

The lab includes modern developments in technology, along with a group of genetically-modified mice – known as transgenic mice – that allow scientists to study the brain in action.

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    Dr. Majid Mohajerani, one of the doctors leading the project, said the new lab will give the university an edge in science.

    “I invested a lot of effort in order to bring our infrastructure to acceptable levels,” Mohajerani said. “We can basically consider ourselves a world leader.”

    Since human subjects cannot be used, researchers isolate the genes of a particular disease, transfer them into mice, then simulate potential situations. A mouse brain carries many of the same genes as a human, and therefore are extremely beneficial in the study of human illnesses, like neurological diseases.

    READ MORE: Of mice and men: Lab rodents react differently to male researchers

    “When the mouse grows up, it looks like the gene that affects humans also does something similar in a mouse brain,” Mohajerani said.

    “Now we can use the mouse as a model to study that type of disease.”

    With the new developments, researchers will now be able to solve many unanswered questions about the complex nature of a brain suffering from neurological diseases, including stroke and dementia.

    “One of the questions we are currently addressing in the lab, is how a very small stroke that we don’t notice can work towards the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Mohajerani said.

    “The problem happens when we get many of them accumulating and they prevent network activity in our brains.”

    The lab equipment gives scientists an opportunity to shine light on specific areas of the brain in a transgenic mouse and activate neurons in brain activity, such as recalling a memory.

    Mohajerani’s research enables the university to attain new information about how the brain functions, and could also lead to identifying the best treatment for human patients suffering from disorders.

    “We don’t know whether the findings we make with mice are necessarily translatable to humans, but we don’t have any other choice,” he said. “We have to try different things and hope to see one of them get translated into actual use in humans.”

    Mohajerani said after two and a half years of hard work, he’s excited to finally begin.

    “This would not be possible without the talented people who work with me in this department,” he said. “This is a collective effort of many people. I’m very glad that the senior members of this department had this vision.”

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