ITHACA, N.Y. --Tiny polymer pellets, some microscopic in size, containing a natural protein, hold the promise of one day being able to treat such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer's. The system is startlingly effective because it targets, within a fraction of an inch, the area of the brain where cell death is causing the devastating illness.
The protein is called nerve growth factor (NGF), a well-studied member of a family of chemicals called neurotrophins that are essential for the survival of the nervous system. About two decades ago Alzheimer's patients were found to have a pronounced loss of nerve cells in the forebrain. These cells, it was discovered, could be regenerated with NGF. Since then, the problem has been how to deliver the potent protein to the affected area of the brain.
At the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston this week, two Cornell University researchers report methods for potentially delivering NGF deep within the forebrain by using a biocompatible polymer (a type of plastic). Mark Saltzman, professor of chemical engineering, has developed a pellet, about 1 millimeter across -- less than the size of a pea -- containing up to 10 milligrams of NGF, that when embedded in rat brains has been "very effective" at regenerating dying cells. Cornell polymer chemist Nadya Belcheva has taken the same idea, but reduced it to the microscopic level by coating individual molecules of NGF with a polymer. These microspheres might one day be injected into the affected areas of the brain.
Saltzman's research springs from his work with neurosurgeons on the treatment of tumors by implanting pellets containing chemotherapy agents in the brain. The pellet releases programmed amounts of the drugs to a tightly confined area where the tumor has been removed. A similar system, Saltzman theorized, might also be effective in using NGF to treat Alzheimer's, a disease in which memory loss and cognitive disturbances are thought to be l
Contact: David Brand
Cornell University News Service