Dr. Martin Watterson, John G. Searle Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is the lead author of research findings that offer a tremendous glimmer of hope for Alzheimer’s patients. He has announced the discovery of new molecules that work in a drug-like fashion to target brain enzymes that contribute to early memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. These molecules, developed in the laboratory of Dr. Watterson, have been observed to not only halt memory deterioration but also to repair communication in the brain cells of mice.
Scientists note that changes in brain structure begin as much as ten to 15 years before the symptoms of memory loss are visible. Dr. Watterson hopes that in the future a new class of drugs can be developed from these enzymes that will be administered at sufficiently early stages, when nerve cells are just beginning to become damaged, and thereby halt certain aspects of memory loss in Alzheimer’s.
One of the causes of the brain inflammation and impaired neuron functioning that we see in Alzheimer’s is due to the enzyme p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38MAPK) that becomes over-active in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This new drug-like molecule, named MW108, may inhibit the toxic impact of p38MAPK in the brain. In mice trials, researchers discovered that MW108 inhibited the release of inflammatory proteins, as well as served as a shield against the damaging effects of beta-amyloid. When injecting MW108 into mice before delivering beta-amyloid into their brains, the mice continued to perform well on memory and learning tests.
With such stunning results, researchers are optimistic over the possibilities of developing novel drug therapies that specifically target molecular processing in the brain. Additionally, scientists now have a new strategy for cultivating novel drug therapies that address other aspects of Alzheimer’s as well as other neurological diseases. Through funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Watterson and his team will work to further stabilize MW108 so that researchers can safely move into phase 1 clinical trials on humans.