Principle similar to AIDS treatment
Researchers have succeeded for the first time in designing a chemical that -- in test tube studies -- can stop the chain reaction that leads to Alzheimer's disease, a finding reported in the current (April 12) print edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Chemist Jordan Tang, Ph.D., has created a highly potent protease inhibitor for a human brain enzyme called memapsin 2. This could be a step forward in finding a drug for treating the now-incurable disease, he said. Although the inhibitor has yet to be made into a drug or tested outside the laboratory, the discovery holds great promise, according to the researcher. In principle it is similar to a treatment currently used successfully to combat the AIDS virus, Tang continued.
The work differs from other Alzheimer's research because it prevents the beginnings of the disease rather than treating the symptoms or coping with the damaged cells.
"I think (memapsin 2) is one of the most promising targets for Alzheimer's disease to come along that can be translated into treatments," said Tang, head of the protein studies program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. "We have accumulated a lot of knowledge on the proteases like memapsin 2. We thought it should be possible to design very potent inhibitors using this knowledge. Now we know it works."
Alzheimer's is a genetic defect that causes a loss of brain function, primarily among elderly people. There are an estimated 4 million diagnosed cases in the United States, according to the National Institute of Aging. Approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population have inherited genetic mutations that may lead to the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center.