Significant advances in understanding Batten disease and other forms of neurodegeneration, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, are expected over the next five years. Trent University Biology professor Dr. Robert Huber recently secured a prestigious five-year grant worth nearly $670,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to explore the role of gene and protein mutations in causing the disease in humans.
“I’m very excited about this project because our work has the potential to advance health-related knowledge and health outcomes for many Canadians,” says Professor Huber.
Batten disease is the most common form of neurodegeneration in children and is currently incurable. It is particularly prevalent in certain regions of Canada and there is a strong overlap with later onset forms of neurodegeneration including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and frontotemporal dementia.
There are different forms of Batten disease, which generally strike between the ages of 5 and 13, but all forms are fatal usually by the late teens or 20s.
In humans, there are 13 genes that are linked to Batten disease and mutations in any one of these genes can cause the disease. The mutated genes encode mutated proteins, whose functions aren’t fully understood.
“Prof. Huber is to be commended on his success, which re-establishes Trent University’s competitiveness at CIHR in health-genetics research,” says Dr. Neil Emery, vice-president Research and Innovation at Trent University. “His novel system, which studies human neurological disorders in a microorganism model, is poised for significant breakthroughs in understanding neurodegenerative disease.”
Prof. Huber’s lab uses a variety of instruments designed to image cells (e.g. microscopes) and study the DNA, RNA, and protein that are contained within them. Most of this equipment was recently purchased with a $125,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation in 2017.
“Over the past two years, we've made significant use of this equipment and will continue to do so as part of our CIHR-funded work,” Prof. Huber says.
Undergraduate and graduate students are a part of this research and Prof. Huber says he’ll soon be actively recruiting new students.
“My research program has attracted undergraduate students from our programs in Biomedical Science, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Biology,” he says. “My graduate students are enrolled in our strong program in Environmental & Life Sciences. I'm excited to be in a position where I can recruit new students who are interested in contributing to the work in the lab.”
Interested students can email Prof. Huber and send their CV, transcript and a statement of interest.
Find out more about Trent’s Biology Department.