The Aging Brain Initiative (ABI) Symposium, held on October 23 at MIT, presented a comprehensive overview of the university’s interdisciplinary efforts to combat neurodegenerative diseases. The symposium, “Cutting Edge Approaches to Studying the Aging Brain,” brought together experts from various fields, including computer science, mechanical engineering, biological engineering, and neuroscience.
The Aging Brain Initiative at MIT
Picower Professor Li-Huei Tsai, founding director of the Aging Brain Initiative and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, opened the symposium. She emphasized the complexities of aging and its association with neurodegenerative diseases, highlighting the urgent need for innovative research in this area.
With participants attending both in person and online from 21 countries, the symposium reflected a global concern and interest in addressing the challenges posed by age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Keynote Address by Maiken Nedergaard
Professor Maiken Nedergaard from the University of Rochester delivered the keynote presentation, focusing on the brain’s glymphatic system. This system, responsible for washing cerebrospinal fluid through brain tissue, plays a vital role in brain health. Nedergaard’s research has shown that this system’s failure to function properly is a contributing factor in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Detailed Overviews of ABI-funded Projects
- Aberrant tRNA Modifications: Peter Dedon, the Singapore Professor in the Department of Biological Engineering, hypothesizes that neurodegenerative disease pathology involves dysregulation in the protein translation process, particularly regarding tRNA modifications and codon mutations.
- Neurodegenerative Disease Mechanisms: Ritu Raman, d’Arbeloff Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, explores communication between muscles and neurons in ALS and similar diseases, challenging traditional views of motor function loss.
- Striatum’s Role in Huntington’s Disease: Institute Professor Ann Graybiel and her team investigate the striatum’s connection to Huntington’s disease, focusing on genetic vulnerabilities and their impact on movement, mood, and motivation.
- Neurocognitive Monitoring Innovations: Thomas Heldt, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, develops eye-tracking software for tablets and iPads to monitor neurocognitive states in aging patients.
Poster Session Showcasing Diverse Research
The symposium’s poster session featured 26 presentations, representing 15 MIT and affiliated labs. Topics ranged from advanced brain imaging methods to cellular studies in neurodegenerative diseases and potential therapeutic approaches.
Innovative technologies for processing and imaging brain samples, analyzing disease pathology, and new therapeutic strategies were among the highlights of the poster session. Labs like those of Kwanghun Chung and Ernest Fraenkel demonstrated cutting-edge methodologies for studying neurodegenerative diseases.
The ABI Symposium at MIT was a testament to the university’s commitment to advancing our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases. The event showcased the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing the complex challenges posed by these diseases. Researchers and scientists at MIT continue to lead the way in developing innovative approaches to study and combat conditions like Alzheimer’s and ALS, contributing significantly to the global effort in this field.