Tiny lab-made proteins ‘hold great promise’ to treat Alzheimer’s, scientists say

New study represents ‘significant leap forward’ and provides ‘potent therapeutic strategy,’ scientists say

Vishwam Sankaran
Monday 19 February 2024 05:20 GMT
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A breakthrough with a new class of lab-made proteins “holds great promise” in enhancing the body’s defence against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

These lab-made protein polymers can enhance the body’s antioxidant response, known to be crucial for protection against many debilitating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the muscle-wasting condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), scientists say.

A common thread connecting these diseases is the accumulation of highly reactive ions and chemicals within cells, adding stress to tissues and organs.

The body’s natural antioxidant response is known to be key for protection against what is known as oxidative stress, a factor in many neurodegenerative diseases.

In the latest research, scientists targeted the interaction between two proteins Keap1/Nrf2, which plays a role in the body’s antioxidant response.

Scientists developed a synthetic protein in the lab that inhibited Nrf2’s interaction with Keap1, a process they say can mitigate damage in such debilitating conditions.

“We established Nrf2 as a principal target for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases over the past two decades, but this novel approach for activating the pathway holds great promise to develop disease-modifying therapies,” study co-author Jeffrey Johnson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said.

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Until now, conventional treatments using these kinds of synthetic small proteins have fallen short due to the lack of stability of these molecules and their uptake within cells.

Researchers now developed these small polymers to mimic the body’s natural proteins, ensuring they penetrate within cells, remain stable, and resist being broken down.

They say this new approach to inhibit the Keap1/Nrf2 interaction “represents a significant leap forward” that can enhance the body’s antioxidant response and provide a “potent therapeutic strategy.”

“Through modern polymer chemistry, we can begin to think about mimicking complex proteins,” Nathan Gianneschi, another author of the study, said.

“The promise lies in the development of a new modality for the design of therapeutics. This could be a way to address diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s among others where traditional approaches have struggled,” Dr Gianneschi said.

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