Posted: 01st July 2019
Some of the players involved in Alzheimer’s disease have been well defined: toxic protein plaques made up of beta amyloid and tangles made up of a protein called tau.
More recently, the finger has also been pointed at immune cells called microglia – cellular scavers tasked with scouring the brain and gobbling up damaged material.
Dr Luke Miles, from SVI’s Structural Biology Unit, says that despite all the work that has been done in the field, the exact chain of events that leads to the development of Alzheimer’s is still unclear.
“We know that toxic proteins accumulate in the brain of people with the disease and we also know that the mechanisms normally in place to clean up these proteins are disrupted. How the timing of these two processes work is still unclear.”
Luke and the team at SVI have spent the last few years trying to find ways to enhance the action of microglia. They have been focused on a protein that is found on the surface of the microglia themselves.
Using sophisticated technology, Luke has drawn up a molecular map of this protein – a blueprint that may allow the researchers to develop drugs which can physically interfere with its function.
“It is thought that this protein acts as a sort of brake on the microglia. Now that we know its shape, we are beginning to design compounds which can turn it off. In theory, this could allow the microglia to do their job better and possibly slow the effects of the disease process or even stop it from occurring in the first place.”
With trials still far off, the compounds that the team are developing will nevertheless provide important tools to help understand the tragic chain of molecular events that leads to Alzheimer’s.