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Center for Translational Neuroscience to bring together different flavors of genius

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | 7:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:53 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The analogy comparing a brain to a sock drawer is one first used by the Missourian's reporter. Grace Sun agreed that it was an appropriate one, but it was not first stated by her. An error was inserted during the editing process, and the story has been corrected.

COLUMBIA--MU’s new Center for Translational Neuroscience hopes to prove the old adage that two heads are better than one.

And 10 is even better.

“Several minds [working] on the same problem … will accelerate the process,” Jamal Ibdah, MU’s senior associate dean for research, said at the center’s open house Tuesday morning.

Until now, progress has been hampered by the physical separation of researchers at MU’s School of Medicine, Ibdah said. The new center will gather them into one lab. This will allow researchers from psychology, neurology, pathology and other life sciences to share innovations, he said.

The goal is to translate research from lab work to animal studies and finally to human medicines, Ibdah said.

One disease the center will focus on is Alzheimer’s. Grace Sun, an MU professor of biochemistry, pathology and anatomical sciences who will now work out of the center, explained her research on Alzheimer’s disease.

A brain suffering from Alzheimer’s has a large number of irregularly folded proteins. Those proteins are associated with a high concentration of oxygen compounds that can damage the brain’s functioning, Sun said.

Here's an analogy Sun says works: A healthy brain is like a well-ordered sock drawer with everything inside folded properly. An Alzheimer's sufferer’s brain is like a disorderly sock drawer. The irregularly folded proteins, like the socks, are tangled. These tangles in the brain are called plaques. Finding your favorite socks is more difficult in a tangled drawer. Similarly, remembering your past is more difficult in a plaque-filled brain.

Sun’s research uses an extract from green tea to help prevent those plaques from forming. The green tea extract is an antioxidant. It might keep the oxygen compounds associated with Alzheimer’s plaques from reducing the functioning of the brain. But the how is what Sun hopes to learn from her research at the center.

Green tea is not processed and retains more of the compounds that may prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms, Sun said. She commended the benefits of the beverage for everyone.

“If you drink tea, you might as well drink green tea,” Sun said.

The Center for Translational Neuroscience’s goal is to put Sun and other researchers into closer contact with colleagues working on similar problems.

The center is located on the seventh floor of MU's Medical Science Center. It occupies 9,000 square feet and will be up and running as soon as researchers move in with their equipment. At least 10 researchers will be working in the center.

The center was constructed with $1.4 million in one-time funding from the Department of Energy.


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