We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


New Method Developed Which Objectively Quantifies Axon Degeneration

New Method Developed Which Objectively Quantifies Axon Degeneration content piece image
Healthy neurons visualized using fluorescent microscopy. Credit: The University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 1 minute

Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus have developed a new and improved method to judge the effectiveness of experimental therapies for neurodegeneration—the progressive loss of neurons.

“Neurons—or nerve cells—are hugely important to our daily lives,” says postdoctoral fellow Aaron Johnstone and study lead author.

“These specialized cells collect and process the large amounts of information that enter our bodies via our senses, control our muscles and organs, and form our thoughts and memories. When these cells become unhealthy, it leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, ALS, glaucoma and chronic pain.”

Postdoctoral fellow Aaron Johnstone. Credit: The University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.

Johnstone says his study uses the first automated test specifically designed for measuring degeneration of sensory neurons grown in a lab.

“The variability in nerve cell lengths, densities and shapes have traditionally made it difficult to reliably analyze their health,” says Johnstone. “This, in turn, has generated confusion about the effectiveness of potential pharmacological or genetic treatments.”

Using the new approach, which is software-assisted, the research team were able to measure nerve cell densities more accurately.

To do this the team grew nerve cells in a lab environment, and after establishing healthy neurons researchers mimicked the conditions that cause neurodegeneration. Neuron loss was then captured using fluorescent microcopy—a process that makes the tiny cells easier to see—and analyzed using a computer algorithm.

Johnstone suggests that objective measurement is essential to the process of developing new medicines.

“This procedure makes evaluating new treatment options, like drugs or gene therapies, far more accurate and trustworthy,” Johnstone adds.

The study is a collaboration between UBC Okanagan Vice Principal of Research Phil Barker’s lab and Robin Hallett, research fellow at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital.

The study, published in PLoS One was supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Health Research Fund of Quebec.

This article has been republished from materials provided by The University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

Johnstone, A. D., Hallett, R. M., Léon, A. D., Carturan, B., Gibon, J., & Barker, P. A. (2018). A novel method for quantifying axon degeneration. Plos One, 13(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0199570