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Alzheimer’s protein treatment that works in human cells

Published on 12/04/18 at 09:44am

One of the major stumbling blocks that science has come up against, when trying to develop potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, is that promising trials results in mice have not translated so successfully into human studies.

This is why a team of scientists at the Gladstone Institutes took a different path when examining the disease, by taking skin cells from people with Alzheimer’s then used induced pluripotent stem cell technology to create neurons and tested these cells.

This approach was taken because the target the team were after, the apoE4 gene, is a variant of the apoE3 gene but no difference had been observed in mice with the two differing genes.

“Drug development for Alzheimer’s disease has been largely a disappointment over the past 10 years,” says lead author Yadong Huang, a senior investigator and Director of the Center for Translational Advancement at Gladstone Institutes. “Many drugs work beautifully in a mouse model, but so far they’ve all failed in clinical trials. One concern within the field has been how poorly these mouse models really mimic human disease.” 

In humans, those that have a copy of the apoE4 gene are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with those that have the apoE3 gene, and those that have two copies of the apoE4 gene are at an increased risk by 12 times.

An additional development, and an exciting breakthrough of itself, was made by the team – they were able to develop a class of compounds that is able to change the structure of apoE4 protein to more closely resemble the harmless apoE3 protein.

This was found to restore normal function to the cells and eliminated signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The breakthrough offers huge hope and it was announced that Huang would now be taking the research forward, with support from academia and the pharmaceutical industry – potentially leading to human trials.

Ben Hargreaves

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