Scientists Hope Naturally-Occurring Molecules Will One Day Treat Alzheimer's

By Sophie Blackshaw
Tuesday, 09 December, 2014

University of Adelaide researchers have begun conducting modelling of a variety of naturally-occurring molecules found in consumables like turmeric, green tea and ginger to hopefully treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease in the future.

The research is the first of its kind to explain in detail how, precisely, molecules bind to and break up with amyloid fibrils, which are the most damaging component of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Typically, long chains of amyloid proteins are dangerous, but even short chains can be toxic to nerve cells.

The scientists involved are trying to find out how difference plant sources - or naturally occurring molecules found in edibles - can bind with the amyloid protein and prevent the formation of toxic fibrils.

The university's School of Medical Sciences and project leader Dr Ian Musgrave said that from their research it's known there are lot of anti-amyloid molecules that exist, like  curcumin, found in turmeric and epigallocatechin gallate, found in green tea.

"But the big problem is that you can't simply consume more green tea or curry powder, because those molecules exist in such tiny quantities, and what little is absorbed is rapidly broken down in your blood stream," Dr Musgrave said.

"Through our modelling, we can see exactly where a molecule is binding with the disease-causing protein, and what it's doing to break up the protein and its fibrils.

"In doing this, we hope to better understand what parts of the molecules can be altered, to make them more easily absorbed by the body, harder to break down, and more effective at their job of stopping Alzheimer's disease. Our hope is that it will help to decide which of these molecules could be a more suitable drug candidate for Alzheimer's in the future."

The modelling work, being conducted by PhD student Sukanya Das, is already revealing some promising molecules – such as galangin, found in galangal, which is similar to ginger.

Thanks to inter-disciplinary funding awarded to this project by the University of Adelaide, the research will involve collaboration across the fields of pharmacology, chemistry and genetics.

"Once the initial modelling work is completed, we hope to have a potential target for building a new drug that can be tested in the lab, which is where our colleagues in chemistry and genetics come in," Dr Musgrave said.

"This is unique work, going beyond anything previously attempted with these kinds of drugs."

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