Visiting scholar program aids neurodegenerative research

7 September 2020

NICM Health Research Institute (NICM HRI) Visiting Scholar Program has led to the development of a tri-cultured model that will provide much needed support for the study of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

The results of the preclinical collaborative project and exchange between NICM HRI and the Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, supported by Dr Fai Yuen Lam, led to the paper ‘A novel tri-culture model for neuroinflamation’, published this month in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

The visiting scholars, Associate Professor Yan-Fang Zheng, Associate Professor Wen-Zhen Yu and Dr Xia-Sen Jiang collaborated with NICM HRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Xian (Phoebe) Zhou and Professors Dennis Chang and Chunguang Li on the research project over 12 months.

Dr Zhou says the three-cell model will enable the study of inflammatory responses within the brain, as well as screening of potential new drugs to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

“Neuroinflammation plays a significant role in the development of many neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. However, there is a lack of suitable in vitro models to study cellular activity and vital inflammatory mechanisms,” said Dr Zhou.

“Our research team established a convenient, practical and economical three cell-model specifically designed for neuroinflammation that include microglia, endothelial and neuron.

“These three types of cells are the essential three cell lines in the neurovascular unit, which play a pivotal role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr Zhou says future studies will research the neuron-inflammation field by testing potent anti-inflammatory compounds on this cellular model and explore the potential therapeutic candidates against neurodegenerative diseases.

Through the exchange and collaboration, NICM HRI laboratory researchers and students acquired new skills, and were able to apply the visiting scholars’ research design.

“Visiting scholar Associate Professor Yan-Fang Zheng has extensive experience in cellular bioassays and mechanistic studies using immunofluorescent staining and immunoblotting, whereas I have expertise in anti-inflammatory studies. This sharing of knowledge has strengthened and advanced our research skills in the preclinical team,” said Dr Zhou.

NICM HRI looks forward to welcoming again international visiting scholars once COVID-19 related travel restrictions ease.