The State of CNS Research on Display
Regina Kelder

The State of CNS Research on Display

The Society for Neuroscience meeting kicks off in San Diego tomorrow . Follow our live coverage of the annual brain fest. 

Vintage cars keep going because of constant tinkering and hand-built parts. Human bodies aren’t so lucky. Prolonging the aging process isn’t as simple as trading in a hip or rebuilding a bladder or taking a beta blocker every day. You have to dig a lot deeper to find therapeutic solutions that will make today’s "seventysomethings" the next "fiftysomethings". So can we?

One of the most urgent problems is dementia, a condition that increases with age and that doctors are powerless to stop. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in those over 65 and as people live longer we can anticipate that the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease may nearly triple, from 5.2 million to a projected 13.8 million, by the year 2050.

But aging is the main risk factor for a whole host of other chronic diseases—from cancer, diabetes and heart disease to arthritis, osteoporosis and Parkinson’s disease. Developing new drugs that can control and prevent these diseases requires not just an understanding of how they erupt and progress, but what the biological and cellular processes are that allow this to happen.

Some of the ongoing science into the aging process will be on display at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, where 30,000 researchers are expected to gather for the annual brain fest Nov. 12-16.

There certainly is a lot of interest in solving these CNS diseases. In recent months, there were announcements about two new science initiatives that could impact neuroscience greatly. Coinciding with the UN General Assembly in September, US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon announced the launch of the International Brain Initiative and Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan announced the creation of a US$3 billion gift to fund a project aimed at helping cure, manage or prevent most diseases by the end of the century. It will be led by neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann, profiled here.

One of the solutions to diseases of the CNS could be immunotherapy. In recent years, there has been enormous focus by drug developers on utilizing the immune system to fight chronic diseases. Cancer is the most prominent example but immunotherapy is also a big focus in Alzheimer’s research. In fits and starts, antibody-based drugs designed to shrink the amyloid plaques that form in the brains of people with the neurodegenerative disorder have made it into clinical trials, and there are other drugs in development that activate helper T-cells.

Eliezer Masliah, who heads the US National Institute on Aging’s Division of Neuroscience, the world’s largest research program on Alzheimer's disease-related dementias and cognitive aging, has described the current state of dementia research as one being driven by an unprecedented degree of collaboration and data-sharing that is advancing our understanding of the basic biology of the condition. He says we have every reason to hope that we may be able to end one day “the devastation wrought by dementia.”

During a special lecture at SfN, Masliah will discuss the progress and challenges in utilizing both the humoral and cellular arms of the immune system to clear toxic proteins that destroy essential brain functions. The discovery last year of the first new human prion in almost 50 years bolsters the theory that many neurodegenerative diseases are caused by prions. Masliah will talk about how prion-like propagation of proteins contributes to neurodegeneration and how developing strategies, including immunological strategies, to increase clearance and diminish prion-like propagation might be key to treating these disorders.

Masliah will be also be one of the panelists during a Nov. 14 luncheon occurring the same week as SfN. The event, sponsored by Charles River, will bring together six experts in the field of neuroscience to discuss three of the biggest challenges in aging research now: establishing disease indications, modeling aging in order to accelerate translational research and identifying key stakeholders, from funders to regulatory authorities, that can help push forward novel therapies. The speakers come from all different corners of the research space—academic, commercial, government and non-profit—so should be an interesting discussion.

On the bustling exhibit floor, Eureka will be checking out a trio of posters on some interesting early discovery work in Huntington’s therapeutics. There are no effective drugs for this lethal inherited disease. These posters deal with two different strategies, including two on kinase inhibitors that might be suitable for proof-of-concept studies. Charles River scientists are authors on 25 other posters, most of them from our Discovery Sciences team in Finland that specializes in diseases of the central nervous system.  

We’ll also be checking out a nanosymposium on epilepsy that looks at high-throughput screening strategies for identifying ion channels found in nerve cells that might be able to modulate the seizure disorder.

As it has for the past three years, Eureka will be blogging live from this meeting. For the first time this year, we will be filming two videos—one on multiple sclerosis and the other focused on aging-related diseases—that feature scientists from inside and outside Charles River. We’re excited about this venture so we hope you stay tuned for the show!

How to Cite:

McEnery, Regina. The State of CNS Research on Display. Eureka blog. Nov. 11, 2016. Available: