The increase in the global elderly population is resulting in a parallel increase in the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The medical and diagnostic needs of these diseases are huge and healthcare expenditure is becoming a major financial burden for many countries.
From today (December 16) to April 19, 2009, the Hong Kong Science Museum has a new exhibition, "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain", which introduces the nervous system and reveals recent potential therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The Department of Biochemistry of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was invited to develop the exhibition, and the Head and Chair Professor of that department, Professor Nancy Ip, is the research project leader.
The human brain comprises billions of nerve cells known as neurons. The correct wiring of neurons to form precise neural circuits is essential for the brain to function properly. Signalling between neurons controls all the movement, sensations, thoughts, memories and feelings of human beings. At the contact site of two neurons is a specialised zone known as a synapse. Neurons talk to each other via chemical signals at the synapse.
Scientists have discovered that learning and memory formation is usually accompanied by an increase in communication efficiency at the synapse, at times by increasing the number of spines and synapses. Forgetting, on the other hand, is due to a weakening of synaptic transmission. Another discovery is that when developing neurons attempt to connect with another neuron, the target cells secrete neurotrophins to support the survival of the developing neurons. Thus, only cells that successfully form synaptic connections with the target remain alive. Through this wave of selection, neurons that fail to reach the target are eliminated. This fine-tuning of synaptic connections by neurotrophins is crucial for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Neurodegenerative diseases are disorders of the brain where increasing numbers of neurons are lost due to their degeneration and death. Recent research breakthroughs have highlighted the relationship between abnormal regulation of synaptic transmission and loss of neurons. Hence, identifying key molecular players that control transmission at the synapse and maintain neuronal survival may pave the way towards developing effective therapeutic drugs.
In conjunction with the exhibition, video footage on animal experiments will be screened. An on-site computer will provide exhibition-goers with a list of relevant websites.
The Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It opens from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. On Christmas Eve and Chinese New Year's Eve, the museum will close at 5pm. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission is $25 with half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For enquiries, call 2732 3232 or visit the Science Museum's website at http://hk.science.museum.
Ends/Tuesday, December 16, 2008