A team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada have successfully tested in cell cultures a new class of drug compounds designed to inhibit the spread of prions—toxic, misfolded proteins that can spread in the brain. Dr. David Westaway, a former BrightFocus grantee, is the senior author on this publication. The new compounds are “multivalent,” which means they can grab and neutralize more than one prion protein at once, and also are more purified than previously-tested drug compound mixtures. The drugs created by Westaway’s team are too bulky to be used for treating humans or animals, but they show promise and new hope for future methods to combat neurodegenerative diseases.
In Alzheimer’s disease, the toxic proteins, like tau and beta-amyloid, can fold, clump, and spread in ways similar to prion proteins found in other diseases. Lessons learned from these new types of drugs designed to combat prion diseases could lend new ideas to the future design of drugs for other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.