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U researchers make neurological discovery

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Posted at 9:15 PM, Jan 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-05 23:37:05-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Research conducted by biologists at the University of Utah could help improve treatment options for people with neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease.

Erik Jorgensen says the research started as a tribute experiment to one conducted in the 1970s that had never been revisited.

"So we decided to look at this experiment again and try to repeat it and see whether we could see anything new," said Jorgensen.

New technology enabled researchers to test nerve cells in a new way, using light instead of electricity to stimulate nerve cells, and they made an important discovery.

"We can see structures that nobody could ever see, so we are looking at structures as small as one nanometer," said Shigeki Watanabe, PhD.

Before their research, no one really knew how synaptic vesicles, which are filled with neurotransmitters, actually work.

"The way your brain works is about 500 times faster than we originally thought," Jorgensen said.

A fast nervous system is what allows us to think and move quickly.

"I think this is beginning to open up that door. How does the brain function? And then as far as disease and human health goes, it will be very important for people who suffer from Alzheimer's, who suffer from neuronal diseases, so I think that this will in the end also open up doors for human health," Jorgensen said.

Researchers have been working on the project for about six years, and they plan to continue their research with hopes of helping people with neurological disorders.

"There's a lot of things that you will have to do, you can do, to see what happens after this process. This pretty much opens up a new field in neuroscience," Watanabe said.

The study was published in the journal "Nature."