One of the barriers to the development of effective therapy for Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the lack of a specific biomarker that allows identification of the disease prior to the onset of clinically apparent cognitive impairment when the underlying brain pathology is already advanced and damage irreversible. The way genes operate to manufacture the proteins that are essential for our cells to work may provide the answer.
Our DNA is the blueprint that tells our cells’ manufacturing apparatus, let’s call it our cells’ “factory”, what to make. The message from the DNA is taken to the “factory” by a type of RNA called coding or messenger RNA. This process is called transcription. Another type of RNA is non-coding RNA which regulates how much protein is made after the message has been given to the factory. In technical terms non-coding RNA regulates RNA protein expression post-transcriptionally. One of these non-coding RNAs is small and is called micro RNA or miRNA. The easiest way to study RNA is to take a blood sample from vein. The miRNAs are currently being explored as biomarkers of diseases, as different miRNAs have been associated with pathological states. Blood miRNAs are ideal biomarker candidates, as they are easily accessible, non-invasive and cost-effective.
The objective of this collaborative study between CHeBA, UNSW and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) is to examine the differences in miRNA among Chinese and Australian patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease compared to patients with normal cognition. For miRNAs to be clinically useful biomarkers, we need to understand whether there are differences across racial groups. The miRNAs that are able to differentiate AD or MCI from normal controls in both Chinese and Australian groups are potential candidate biomarkers for AD and will be the focus of future studies.
This has significant impact for the field of AD biomarker research as early diagnosis will allow time for appropriate intervention and support services. Further collaborative work to determine the characteristics and the targets of these miRNAs will provide insight into how the pathology of AD develops and may provide clues for therapeutic targets.
This project is funded by an SJTU-UNSW Collaborative Research Fund Seed Grant.