Christian – Central to Alzheimer’s disease is a small protein fragment, amyloid-beta. Amyloid-beta is a social molecule, binding together into large assortments of fellow amyloid-beta molecules. Some of these assemblies can wither away brain cells, whereas others are relatively benign. What triggers the formation of toxic groupings of amyloid-beta is one of the key questions in Alzheimer’s disease research, as well as how these toxic groupings kill brain cells.
An accidental contamination in the drinking water of rabbits, found that copper gave the rabbits Alzheimer’s like symptoms. This discovery, together with the knowledge that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have elevated levels of copper, prompted our research group to investigate whether copper has any impact on how amyloid-beta comes together. We found that copper promotes assembly into many small flexible assortments, which were able to disrupt cell membranes much more readily than the large rigid aggregates that occur in the absence of copper. This research suggests that copper and cell membrane disruption could have a crucial role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and copper dysregulation could be a valuable therapeutic target.
Tamsin – I was interested in the way copper build-up could potentially be involved in degenerating the structure of the brain, thereby affecting faculties of memory and recognition.
People form attachments to items through familiarity and because of what they represent through association with memories. In the research for this project, we asked a group of people to choose objects they felt particularly attached to: mementos that had sentimental value and familiar objects they treasured in everyday life.
I began to reproduce some of these chosen objects in porcelain, while exploring the action of copper in eroding the structure of clay. I introduced small sections of copper wire to the porcelain, assembled to mimic the toxic Amyloid-beta clumps found in Alzheimer’s disease. The copper melted and burnt during the firing process, breaking down the structure of the objects so they become successively harder to recognise.