UC Berkeley, UCSF launch neurodegenerative disease research center


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UC Berkeley and UCSF researchers collaborated to launch a new center for research on neurodegenerative diseases Sept. 1.

The Paul F. Glenn Center for Aging Research, housed in laboratories on both campuses, aims to conduct research that leads to new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. UC Berkeley researchers will focus on cellular mechanisms, while UCSF researchers will take a “more focused drug screening approach,” according to Andrew Dillin, a campus molecular and cell biology professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

“At the end of the day, we both want to create a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dillin, who directs the program along with Stanley Prusiner, director of UCSF’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The center is composed of 14 labs at UC Berkeley and 10 at UCSF. At UC Berkeley, the center is directed out of Dillin’s lab in the Li Ka Shing Center but involves researchers in labs across the MCB department. At UCSF, the center is based out of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

“Being able to work with Stan Prusiner has been phenomenal,” Dillin said. “He’s a real force, and it’s great to watch and learn from him.”

Researchers are studying how proteins malfunction within cells, which may cause neurodegenerative diseases. Abnormally folded proteins can’t perform their functions within a cell and can stick to each other or to other parts of the cell.

They will specifically focus on prions, a protein discovered by Prusiner that are especially dangerous because they cause normal proteins to fold abnormally, creating more prions inside the cell. Researchers will study ways to counteract prion accumulation by investigating the protein’s cellular quality-control mechanisms.

The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, based in Santa Barbara, provided the initial funding for the center with a one-time $3 million grant.

“It is a propitious time for us to assist these two leaders in biological research to discover treatments for age-related neurodegenerative disease,” said Mark Collins, president and director of the foundation, in a UCSF release.

The grant is intended to cover the center’s costs for the next three years. To continue running and expanding the center in the future, researchers plan to actively seek funding from other foundations, according to Dillin.

This type of research is important on a financial level as well as an ethical level, Dillin said. Because Alzheimer’s care represents a large cost to both the government and the families of Alzheimer’s patients, new treatments could benefit the state financially, he added.

“As our population gets older, it’s becoming more prevalent that neurodegenerative diseases are on the rise,” Dillin said.

Contact Sonja Hutson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson.