2017: Ms Charlotte Steel, University of Cambridge (currently at University of Otago), has been awarded Rutherford Foundation PhD scholarship for research entitled: “How protein misfolding can be prevented in neurodegenerative disease”
About 60,000 New Zealanders currently suffer from dementia, and this number is expected to increase by 300% by 2050. Many of these neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, involve the deadly build-up of unfolded or misfolded proteins in brain cells. The resulting death of neurons leads to a progressive degeneration of brain function, which is ultimately fatal. There is no known cure for dementia, and current therapies are only able to treat the symptoms and not the underlying causes of disease.
At the University of Cambridge, Ms Charlotte Steel hopes to undertake a PhD research project in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. She is interested in the work of an internationally recognised expert research team, led by Professor Mallucci, who specialise in understanding the common cellular processes involved in various neurodegenerative diseases. In particular, Ms. Steel is interested in the unfolded protein response, a protective pathway normally activated during cellular stress, which is detrimentally over-activated in the brains of patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This over-activation causes cells to stop producing new proteins. However, re-initiating protein synthesis can prevent further neurodegeneration in a mouse model. Ms Steel is interested in investigating how certain compounds that re-induce protein production could be used to prevent the death of brain cells. In the future, such drugs could have the potential to treat, and even prevent, dementia.