OU Researcher Is Advancing New Therapy For Alzheimer’s Disease

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by Isaura Santos |

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A scientist from the University of Oklahoma is developing a new therapy to address Alzheimer’s disease using “biopharmaceutical proteases” to destroy the toxic plaque that piles up in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. This approach will have significantly lower costs in the treatment of the disease while at the same time it has the potential to be more effective in comparison to current therapies.

Peter J. Heinzelman is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical, Biological and Mechanical Engineering, who recently received a grant of $75,000 from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology to further this project, which also includes the development of a library of proteases that will be available for anyone to consult and can become a useful tool for the whole scientific community.

Previous work from the researcher already raised the idea that proteases (which are proteins that degrade other proteins) have the capacity to serve as an effective therapy to treat those with Alzheimer’s. The brain is protected by the blood brain barrier that contains cells which allow glucose to pass through, however it is very resistant to therapeutic proteins and other drug molecules, which cannot easily trespass such barriers.

Thanks to a single protease molecule that is able to degrade thousands of the plaque molecules, these proteases could deliver a catalytic benefit even if only a few of them pass through the cell barrier around the brain. “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,” explained Dr. Heinzelman.

The researcher now wants to re-engineer the existing technology to connect the proteases with antibodies, allowing them to enter the inside of the barrier. Dr. Heinzelman is collaborating with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.