SLU develops potential Alzheimer’s treatment

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Researchers at Saint Louis University have discovered a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings, published in the August issue of Experimental Neurology, were part of a three-year study led by William Banks, a professor at SLU, and Michael Steintiz of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The study found that a certain protein injected into mice reverses learning problems, and may have important implications for humans.

One difference between this study and past efforts to find a therapy for Alzheimer’s is its use of immunoglobulin M proteins instead of immunoglobulin G proteins. The IgM protein is an antibody that grabs onto the amyloid beta protein in the brain and prevents it from changing into the toxic substance that is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s, according to an Oct. 8 article in Science Daily.

Banks told The Herald that one change in this study as opposed to earlier studies was the method of immunization used. In previous studies, subjects were given incomplete antibodies in the hopes the body would then begin producing the substance on its own, but the antibodies were rejected by the body before they were able to have any effect on the brain. For his study, Banks utilized passive immunization, a technique which involves giving premade antibodies to the test subject directly. Banks said this method was more successful.

Banks also said that these IgM proteins are much larger than other proteins, and that their large size might be the reason for their success. They have to “use the back door” in order to be effective, Banks said. “Once (IgG proteins) get in, the brain starts to pump them back out … IgM proteins also lead (into the brain), but they can accumulate,” thereby having a more lasting effect on the brain.

This is the first time these antibodies have been used, and Banks said that they have potential to help fight Alzheimer’s. As of now, the proteins have only been tested in mice. Banks said there is no word yet on when IgM proteins will be tested on humans or released to the public. But this initial research, Banks said, “shows antibodies can get in” and possibly reverse the effects of the disease in humans.