Can yeast inform us in the fight against dementia?

Dr BharadwajYeast, a member of the fungus family - fermented it converts carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohols and the fairly innocuous little single-celled microorganism has been used in baking for thousands of years, but could it hold the key to unlocking new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia Australia Dementia Research Foundation Project Grant recipient (2014) and current NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellow Dr Prashant Bharadwaj aims to find out.

Dr Bharadwaj chose to work with yeast because it is “a good cell model.”  Dr Bharadwaj developed a yeast model to produce Amyloid Beta Aβ, the main component of the amyloid plaques, found in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The yeast clears it straight away,” Dr Bharadwaj said. 

“It detects that it’s not good for it.” 

Determining how the yeast is able to detect the Aβ and clear it is what Dr Bharadwaj is looking to determine so that it can eventually be replicated in humans, playing a role in new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Yeast is highly adaptive to the environment. It has the ability to do a lot of these kinds of things, and it can cope with stress really well,” Dr Bharadwaj said.

“Our recent work has identified specific genes that are involved in clearing Aβ from the cell.”

The next phase of Dr Bharadwaj’s work involves looking at brain cells in worms and how they clear or don’t clear Aβ.

“Brain cells are very complex, they have a lot of specific neurological functions. The worm has 302 brain cells, so this is the next-level,” Dr Bharadwaj said. 

“When you put Aβ in a worm’s brain cell, it is also toxic for them. We now want to find out whether Aβ clearance mechanism identified in yeast can be replicated in worms.”

The worm study is a collaboration between Edith Cowan University, where Dr Bharadwaj is based, and a collaborator, Dr Hannah Nicholas at the University of Sydney’s worm lab.