Liverpool: Engineered heparins could form the basis of Alzheimer’s drugs

31 Oct 2006 | News

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Scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, have created a new chemical compound, engineered heparin that blocks the activity of the enzyme beta-secretase, one of the key drug targets in Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team used a family of long chain sugars called heparan sulphates (HS), found on nearly every cell of the body, to produce the engineered heparin, which they say can prevent the formation of the amyloid plaques that disrupt the normal function of brain cells leading to progressive memory loss which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

The plaques are formed from a protein fragment called amyloid-beta which is generated from amyloid precursor protein through the action beta-secretase.

Jerry Turnbull and Ed Yates, at the School of Biological Sciences, discovered that heparin sulphate binds to beta-secretase, preventing it from transforming amyloid precursor protein into amyloid beta.

“Engineered heparin could possibly be developed into drugs to stop amyloid-beta peptides from forming in the brain, and for the first time treat the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s,” says Turnbull.

Despite its central importance in the pathology of the disease, there are currently no drug treatments that target beta-secretase because it has proved difficult to find inhibitors using traditional drug discovery approaches. “The new compounds, based on the body’s natural substances, may provide a novel route to effective treatments for this debilitating disease,” says Turnbull.

The technology has been spun out to a start-up, IntelliHep Ltd, which looking for partners to help commercialise the technology.

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