Researchers have found a way to design an antibody that can identify the toxic particles that destroy healthy brain cells – a potential advance in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Antibody designed to recognise pathogens of Alzheimer’s disease
Their method is able to recognise these toxic particles, known as amyloid-beta oligomers, which are the hallmark of the disease, leading to hope that new diagnostic methods can be developed for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The team, from the University of Cambridge, University College London and Lund University, designed an antibody which is highly accurate at detecting toxic oligomers and quantifying their numbers. Their results are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“There is an urgent unmet need for quantitative methods to recognise oligomers – which play a major role in Alzheimer’s disease, but are too elusive for standard antibody discovery strategies,” said Professor Michele Vendruscolo from Cambridge’s Centre for Misfolding Diseases, who led the research. “Through our innovative design strategy, we have now discovered antibodies to recognise these toxic particles.”
Dementia is one of the leading causes of death in the UK and costs more than £26 billion each year, a figure which is expected to more than double in the next 25 years. Estimates put the current cost to the global economy at nearly £1 trillion per year.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia, leads to the death of nerve cells and tissue loss throughout the brain, resulting in memory failure, personality changes and problems carrying out daily activities.
Abnormal clumps of proteins called oligomers have been identified by scientists as the most likely cause of dementia. Although proteins are normally responsible for important cell processes, according to the amyloid hypothesis, when people have Alzheimer’s disease these proteins –including specifically amyloid-beta proteins – become rogue and kill healthy nerve cells.
Proteins need to be closely regulated to function properly. When this quality control process fails, the proteins misfold, starting a chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells. Misfolded proteins form abnormal clusters called plaques which build up between brain cells, stopping them from signalling properly. Dying brain cells also contain tangles, twisted strands of proteins that destroy a vital cell transport system, meaning nutrients and other essential supplies can no longer move through the cells.
There have been over 400 clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, but no drug that can modify the course of the disease has been approved. In the UK, dementia is the only condition in the top 10 causes of death without a treatment to prevent, stop, or slow its progression.
Image: Mouse model of Alzheimer's disease
Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.