New hope for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's treatment after University of Portsmouth researcher helps develops fish maze test

A TEST of fish behaviour in a maze has provided new hope for treatments of brain disorders.

Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th August 2020, 1:50 pm
Fish swimming through a simple maze has shown ‘exceptional’ potential to improve progress in developing treatments for brain and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, substance abuse, autism, depression and anxiety. Dr Matt Parker, at the University of Portsmouth, leads a team looking at zebrafish.

Dr Matt Parker, at the University of Portsmouth, is leading a team looking at how zebrafish swimming through a maze has the potential to improve progress in developing treatments for brain and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and anxiety.

Psychiatric disorders are usually diagnosed with a test on someone’s ability to think clearly, remember things and change in different circumstances.

The team designed a simple maze for the fish to explore and meant the team could analyse the fishes’ behaviour to see if any drugs affected any changes in their decisions.

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Dr Parker said: ‘My group has developed a test of memory and decision-making in zebrafish and remarkably, human performance was indistinguishable to that of the animals.

‘This has huge implications for the development of drugs to treat such conditions.’

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The test can help the team understand the mechanisms of complex brain disorders and the results could also mean more humane treatment for animals used in research for brain and psychiatric disorder treatments.

Dr Parker said: ‘It is very rare to find a non-invasive, humane test which can reliably improve diagnosis and be used to improve drug discovery using animal models of complex brain disorders that result in loss of memory and brain function.

‘The maze we developed lays the foundation of future research into a range of neurological disorders and could open new avenues of research into cognition and memory, allowing cross-species comparisons with exceptional translational relevance, minimal stress and reducing the number of test animals.

The researchers have also developed a virtual version of the maze and tested people in it.

Dr Parker added: ‘Our aim is to align cognitive testing in humans and animals and develop a task that can reliably target the same behavioural measures of thinking in a range of species, including humans, to improve progress for developing effective treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.’

‘In follow up studies we have been looking at how old age affects performance on the task, and have found some extremely promising results in both our fish and in older humans.

‘Additionally, we found that animals can be re-tested in the maze show very similar responses in re-testing, which opens the door to being able to reuse animals for pre and post drug exposure, reducing the overall number of animals required. The possibilities for this procedure are very exciting.’

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