Each year, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s Molly Appeal aims to raise funds to purchase an important piece of equipment, enhancing the work of their many researchers.

The goal of their first ever spring campaign is a new tissue processing machine, to take their already impressive research to the next level.

The exciting work is happening every day in Dr. Sultan Darvesh’s lab.

Alzheimer’s is the focus of the neurologist’s current research.

“I see patients in my clinic and during life, one can only be 80, 90 per cent sure that it is Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Dr. Darvesh, “never 100 per cent sure during life at this time. The definitive diagnosis comes at autopsy.”

Dr. Darvesh is hoping to change that, finding a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s with certainty while a patient is still alive.

He has been studying donated brain tissue from those who lived with the disease.

“We have found that there are certain proteins that are more found in more higher levels in Alzheimer’s disease than in normal.”

Dr. Darvesh is on his way to developing a way of seeing those specific proteins and enzymes in a PET scan, with the hope of more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

He’s just one of the researchers at Dalhousie Medical School who rely on tissue analysis to do their work.

“If you want to examine or understand human disease, you need to examine human tissue.”

The tissue samples are prepared in the histology lab.

Body tissues are put through a special machine, using chemicals and solutions to remove the water and replace it with wax.

Unfortunately, the heart of the lab stopped beating a year ago.

The tissue processor broke, and now researchers rely on an old outdated machine.

“The samples unfortunately, they keep accumulating because we’re not able to produce the number of samples that the new instrumentation would,” explains lab manager Patricia Colp, “which is a couple of hundred specimens per day.”

The new machine is the goal of this year’s Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation Molly Appeal.

Colp says not only is the latest technology faster, it’s safer for operators and allows for more quality control.

“All the tissues are going to be precisely done,” she explains, “precisely processed in a way that is ready for publication and ready for analysis.”

And with better quality tissues, comes better research.

“It will be able to allow us to handle the tissues in a more delicate way,” adds Dr. Darvesh, “so that we can understand the architecture a little better.”