There are a number of chronic neurodegenerative conditions of the aging brain that are currently incurable, such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. These diseases and related ones such as Alzheimer's disease are likely to become more common as our society lives longer. Developing better treatments to help people suffering from these conditions is the main research focus of Dr Barker’s group and involves combining studies in patients, cells grown in the lab (including those derived from patients themselves) and animal models of the diseases.
These latter studies involve looking at cell transplants as well as agents designed to arrest or slow down the disease process allowing the brain to repair and recover. It is essential that we look at this in animal models before moving to patients so that we can make sure that our cells or agents can survive or get into the brain and effect repair without causing major side effects. Whilst we can learn a lot using cells grown in the lab as our model system, ultimately we need to know what they can do in the complex 3D environment of the brain and how this can affect the animal’s behaviour - as such this can only be done in animal models of disease.