UH Med Now
UH Researcher discovers new approach to potentially stop Alzheimer’s Disease in its tracks
Pictured: Dr. Robert Nichols in the lab at the Biosciences Building at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Deborah Manog Dimaya photo.
By Deborah Manog Dimaya UH Med Now Correspondent
Recognized by its ability to steal memories and target the aging population, Alzheimer’s Disease has long been without a cure — but a University of Hawaiʻi – Mānoa (UHM) Scientist hopes to change that.
The research of Dr. Robert Nichols, Professor of Cell & Molecular Biology with the UHM John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), and his team of collaborators caught the attention of the Journal of Neurochemistry and was published in January. The study demonstrates that a small string of six amino acids derived from a larger peptide called “beta amyloid” can be used to protect nerve cells in the brain from Alzheimer’s Disease. Interestingly enough, buildup of the larger beta amyloid peptide is known to trigger Alzheimer’s Disease.
During the course of the disease, nerve cells in certain parts of the brain deteriorate, which leads to common symptoms like increased memory loss and confusion. However, Dr. Nichols showed that application of the small protective peptide was observed to restore both normal functioning of nerve cell communication and normal memory processing.
Dr. Nichols says that up until now, most of the work that’s been done to combat the destructive effects of Alzheimer’s Disease has been to try to lower the levels of beta amyloid in the brain, which has not proved to be an effective treatment to stop or slow the disease.
“We believe this is an exciting, new approach because we are trying to modulate how amyloid is actually acting and causing toxicity in the brain rather than simply lowering it,” Dr. Nichols said.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s Association reports. In Hawaiʻi, the number of people ages 65 and older affected by this disease is expected to rise 25% by the year 2025.
Currently, Dr. Nichols is collaborating with scientists at the University of Arizona to design and screen compounds based on the peptide fragment, for future drug development.
Watch our video:
Kelly Forest, Senior Graduate Student in the PhD program in Cell & Molecular Biology – Neuroscience, JABSOM and Naghum Alfulaij, PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology – Neuroscience, JABSOM.
Collaborators and co-authors:
Funding provided by UH Foundation and NIH grants.
Read the transcript from the video.