Brain Research Goes High Def
In collaboration with Calif.-based Inscopix, Lundbeck is using a sophisticated new technology to record detailed video images of brain neurons—in action. The partnership will use the new data to build a map of the brain that could accelerate the development of potential new treatments for brain diseases.
In the early days of photography, cameras were bulky and awkward, and photographs lacked detail and vibrancy—a static, frozen moment in time. Now, from the palm of your hand, you can capture with precision, clarity and motion not just moments in time, but the full, live experience. Not just someone blowing out candles on a birthday cake, but the inhale and exhale of the breath, how the candles flickered, who else was around the birthday table and their reaction to the birthday wish.
When it comes to understanding the brain—and specifically how potential treatments might engage their intended targets within the brain—researchers have been stuck using old-time cameras. While current imaging technology allows scientists to observe some brain activity, capturing the brain in full action—with its billions of neurons firing and interacting with each other and other molecules —has proven vastly harder. Now, a new kind of technology can offer more of a smart-phone view of the brain, and it may help researchers decide earlier and with greater reliability whether potential therapies for brain diseases will be able to engage their intended target.
In a first-of-its kind collaboration, Lundbeck and Inscopix, a Calif.-based technology company, are partnering to develop quantitative, brain-circuit-based preclinical assays. Pre-clinical assays help scientists identify the most-promising potential treatments for specific conditions, before clinical trials are contemplated.
A key element of the new technology is a miniature microscope that can map the brain and film or photograph brain activity on a neuronal level. This level of detail is important because understanding those interactions may help researchers understand much earlier in the discovery process if a potential treatment is achieving the intended effect.
“We will try to understand what happens where in the brain, and how different neurons, molecules and substances interact with each other on a very detailed level,” says Benjamin Hall, Director, Circuit Biology at Lundbeck. “All brain diseases are circuit-based diseases, some change in how the brain communicates either within that brain region or between regions, and we need a high-resolution image of that in order to understand where to target our therapies. With this technology, we’ll move from static images of the brain to something live, animated and in sharp focus.”
The research collaboration has been jointly developed by the R&D teams at Inscopix in the United States and Lundbeck in Denmark. The miniature microscope and associated data analytics will be used to assess target engagement, pharmacodynamics, and efficacy of various compounds that Lundbeck is developing for the treatment of neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders. The technology is still new, and it is too early to say what the possibilities are.
“We are always assessing new methods to accelerate our research and development. With the ability to actually film brain activity on a neuronal level, I think we are exploring an interesting opportunity to gain new knowledge,” Hall says. “The miniature microscope can depict neurons in the brain, thereby showing where compounds interact and how they affect the brain. This has the potential to accelerate the development of treatments within brain disorders.”
The brain remains one of the biggest medical mysteries, and scientists around the world struggle with finding ways to develop treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia, and a myriad of rare neurological disorders. With the partnership, Lundbeck and Inscopix hope to take one step toward solving the remaining mysteries.