A researcher from the University of Oklahoma is currently developing a new therapy to address Alzheimer’s disease by using biopharmaceutical proteases. The goal is to target the harmful amyloid beta plaque that builds up in the brains of AD patients. If successful, the scientist expects this approach to be cheaper, and more effective that the current therapies.
Peter J. Heinzelman is a professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemical, Biological and Mechanical Engineering. He recently received a grant worth $75,000 from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology to support his research on developing a database of biopharmaceutical proteases for public use.
Professor Heinzelman’s former studies led to the idea that proteases, which are proteins that have the ability to degrade other proteins, would be more effective in addressing Alzheimer’s disease than today’s preexisting approaches. The idea behind Heinzelman’s approach is to find a way to somehow bypass the blood brain barrier, in order to allow medication to take effect on plaque buildup.
Heinzelman said in a press release: “Digestive enzymes are promiscuous. We can create catalytic proteases that attack the beta-amyloid plaque that cause neurons in the brain to die. Current therapies use amyloid-binding antibodies that are created by the body or injected to get rid of the plaque, but these antibodies used to attack the problematic Abeta molecules can only bind one time and clear one Abeta molecule, then they are done.”
The delivery system itself is also problematic. Professor Heinzelman suggests a new approach that can significantly enhance therapeutic efficacy and delivery in the brain. He intends to adjust an existing technology that can link proteases to ferrying antibodies, consequently potentiating the passage of proteases through the blood brain barrier and into the brain tissue where it can get to work. His team has already demonstrated this approach in the laboratory.
Heinzelman’s recent grant will also allow the development of a public database of proteases intended to be available, for free, as a game-changing aid to the scientific community. Professor Heinzelman is currently working with a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation on this project.