CPTX: Gluing the brain back together

# # # #

Current clinical efforts at restorative medicine for neurodegeneration are still largely focused on stem cell and neurotrophic factor-based methods. Novel techniques are being preclinically proposed however, and some of them employ some radically different approaches.

An international group of researchers have recently published a report describing a means of repairing the damaged central nervous system that involves ‘gluing’ neurons together via an artificial protein.

They called this new method CPTX.

In today’s post, we will explore what this artificial protein does, what was reported in the new study, and consider how this could potentially be used for Parkinson’s.

# # # #


Source: Howtogeek

Earlier in the year I wrote a post called the 2020 wish list, where I discussed some hopes for Parkinson’s research this year. Despite everything that 2020 (annus horribilis) has thrown at us, there have been significant developments regarding Parkinson’s research and some of those wishes.

One of those hopes was the announcement of new and innovative methods for restorative techniques for Parkinson’s. At present, all of the restorative approaches in clinical trial for Parkinson’s are focused on stem cell transplantation (Click here to read a recent SoPD post describing an example of this), and it would be good to broaden the range of approaches being tested.

As a result of this particular wish, a theme here on the SoPD this year has been to write posts highlighting new restorative research as it has been published (Click here, here and here to read some examples).

In today’s post, we are going to continue that theme with an extremely radical bit of research that utterly boggled my mind.

Me after reading this report. Source: 1zoom

Be warned, this is very futuristic, blue sky, “way out there on the horizon”-kind of stuff.

But when I read this report in August, I was left stunned… and rather excited by the potential possibilities.

Sounds interesting, what was the research report about?

Continue reading “CPTX: Gluing the brain back together”

The Stanford Parkinson’s Disease Plasma Study

# # # #

Researchers in California have been conducting a different kind of Parkinson’s clinical trial. Rather than testing a drug or a special diet/exercise regime, they have been giving participants in their study a regular infusion of plasma.

If you remove all of the cells from blood, the yellowish liquid that remains is called plasma. In medicine, plasma is usually used to boost a patient’s blood volume to help reduce shock. But recently researchers have been experimenting with giving older individuals infusions of plasma collected from young individuals to see if this has any beneficial effects.

A group of researchers at Stanford University have been leading a study examining the safety of infusions of plasma (collected from young people) in a cohort of individuals with Parkinson’s. This week they published the results of their study.

In today’s post, we will discuss what plasma is made of, why young plasma may help in neurodegenerative conditions, and review the results of the new study.

# # # #


Source: KhanAcademy

There are three chief components of blood:

  • Red blood cells
  • White blood cells
  • Plasma

Red blood cells carry oxygen to distant parts of the body and they also remove carbon dioxide. And by volume, the red blood cells constitute about 45% of whole blood. White blood cells are the immune cells, fighting off infections etc. And they – this may surprise you – make up only 0.7% of whole blood.

That might sound like a tiny fraction, but understand that within a single drop of blood (50 ul) there are approximately 5 million red blood cells, and 5,000 to 25,000 white blood cells.

Apologies to the squeamish. Source: Science

And in total the human body contains about 4.5 litres (or 1.2 gallons) of blood. That’s a whole lot of drops. Plenty of white blood cells to help keep us healthy.

And what about plasma?

Plasma is the stuff that all of the red and white blood cells sit in. It has a yellowish tinge to it, and it makes up the other 54.3% of whole blood.

It contains 92% water and 8% ‘other stuff’.

Apologies for the very technical term (‘other stuff’), but there is a great deal of interesting stuff in that ‘other stuff’.

What do you mean ‘interesting’?

Continue reading “The Stanford Parkinson’s Disease Plasma Study”

That time APOE met Alpha Syn

  

Recently two independent research groups published scientific papers providing evidence that a genetic variation associated with Alzheimer’s may also be affecting the severity of pathology in Parkinson’s.

The genetic variation associated with Alzheimer’s occurs in a gene (a functional region of DNA) called ApoE, and the Parkinson’s pathology involves the clustering of a protein called alpha synuclein.

Specifically, both researchers reported that a genetic variation called ApoE4 is associated with higher levels of alpha synuclein clustering. And ApoE4 is also associated with worse cognitive issues in people carrying it.

In today’s post, we will discuss what ApoE is, what is known about ApoE4, what these new studies found, and what it could mean for the future treatment of Parkinson’s and associated conditions.

 


A mutant. Source: Screenrant

When I say the word ‘mutant’, what do you think of?

Perhaps your imagination drifts towards comic book superheroes or characters in movies who have acquired amazing new super powers resulting from their bodies being zapped with toxic gamma-rays or such like.

Alternatively, maybe you think of certain negative connotation associated with the word ‘mutant’. You might associate the word with terms like ‘weirdo’ or ‘oddity’, and think of the ‘freak show’ performers who used to be put on display at the travelling carnivals.

Circus freak show (photo bombing giraffe). Source: Bretlittlehales

In biology, however, the word ‘mutant’ means something utterly different.

What does ‘mutant’ mean in biology?

Continue reading “That time APOE met Alpha Syn”

“Transdiagnostic” clusters

 

“In current models of neurodegeneration, individual diseases are defined by the presence of one or two pathogenic protein species. Yet, it is the rule rather than the exception that a patient meets criteria for more than one disease”

These are the first lines of a manuscript on the preprint sharing webiste BioRxiv, which analysed the co-occurance of biological markers of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative conditions across 18 brain regions in 1389 postmortem brain from people who passed away with a neurodegenerative condition.

The results are interesting.

In today’s post, we will discuss what this study did, what is meant by “transdiagnostic disease clusters”, and consider what could they mean for our understanding of Parkinson’s… and heck, neurodegenerative conditions in general.

 


Malcolm Gladwell. Source: Masterclass

I am a fan of Malcolm Gadwell (not an endorsement, this is just me sharing).

He has a great way of looking at a situation from a completely different angle, finding things that no one else sees, and then writing about it in a clever, easy to read manner. Having read most of his books, I was rather pleased to learn that he has a podcast – Revisionist History.

And it’s good.

Oh boy, it’s good.

The first episodes of the most recent series of the podcast have helped to raise my fragile self esteem, because I am definitely a tortoise (just listen to the first two episodes of season 4 and you’ll understand).

Oh, and Mr Gladwell, if you ever read this – in the next series of the podcast, please have a look at the dysfunctional way we clinically test new therapies in medicine – click here to read a previous SoPD rant on this topic. Thanks!

What does Malcolm Gladwell have to do with Parkinson’s?

It all comes back to that idea of looking at a situation from a completely different angle.

What do you mean?

Continue reading ““Transdiagnostic” clusters”

“So, will my head glow in a disco?”

 

The clustering (or aggregation) of misfolded proteins is a key feature of many neurodegenerative conditions. These aggregating proteins are collectively referred to as ‘amyloid’ proteins, and the way that they have misfolded allows many copies of these proteins to stick together.

Amyloid proteins are associated with more than 50 medical conditions (from Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntinton’s and Parkinson’s through to rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes).

In addition to being public enemy no. 1 for their respective conditions, amyloid proteins also share another curious feature:

They glow when exposed to specific wavelengths of light (like near-infrared).

In today’s post, we will look at what we mean by ‘amyloid proteins’, what this new research found, and how this property could be extremely useful in the tracking of Parkinson’s over time.

 


Source: Yoursalesplaybook

If you have recently sent me an email, you may not have had a response. I apologise profusely for this, but I have gradually become inundated with questions and requests, and have had a hard time keeping up (in addition: family and day job take priority).

I do get some wonderfully titled emails though, which immediately grab the attention.

For example, the other day I recieved an email entitled:

“So, will my head glow in a disco?”

A brief glance at the contents confirmed suspicions that the sender was referring to this new research report:

Title: Ultraviolet–visible–near-infrared optical properties of amyloid fibrils shed light on amyloidogenesis
Authors: Pansieri J, Josserand V, Lee S-J, Rongier A, Imbert D, Sallanon MM, Kövari E, Dane TG, Vendrely C, Chaix-Pluchery O, Guidetti M, Vollaire J, Fertin A, Usson Y, Rannou P, Coll J-L, Marquette C, & Forge V
Journal: Nature Photonics, published 13th May 2019
PMID: N/A

Previously researchers have described an intrinsic ultraviolet–visible optical property to amyloid proteins.

What does that mean?

Continue reading ““So, will my head glow in a disco?””

I’ve got gum disease on my mind

 

Earlier this year, a San Francisco-based biotech company – called Cortexyme – published a research report that grabbed my attention.

The study presented data supporting an alternative theory of the cause of Alzheimer’s – one in which a bacteria involved in gum disease appears to be playing a leading role – and evidence that the company’s lead experimental compound COR388 could have beneficial effects in the treatment of the condition.

While the study was intriguing, what completely blew my mind was the fact that the company had already tested COR388 in a couple of Phase I clinical trials, and since then they have initiated a large Phase II/III trial.

In today’s post, we will discuss this new theory of Alzheimer’s, look at what Cortexyme are doing, and how this could relate to Parkinson’s.

 


The dashed lines show associations. Source: Slideplayer

Before we start today’s post, a word on ‘associations‘.

Please remember while reading this material that association does not equate to causation.

So if I write something like “researchers have found an association between a type of bacteria that causes gum disease and Alzheimer’s”, it does not mean that someone with either condition necessarily has the other. It only means that they have both simply appeared in the same individuals at a higher than chance rate.

All clear?

Yes.

Good.

So what is today’s post about?

A very interesting report in which researchers have found an association between a type of bacteria that causes gum disease and Alzheimer’s.

Continue reading “I’ve got gum disease on my mind”

On your MARCKS. Get set. Go

 

An important aspect of developing better remedies for Parkinson’s involves determining when and where the condition starts in the brain. What is the underlying mechanism that kicks things off and can it be therapeutically targetted?

Recently, researchers from Japan have suggested that a protein called Myristoylated alanine-rich C-kinase substrate (or simply MARCKS) may be a potentially important player in the very early stages of Parkinson’s (and other neurodegenerative conditions).

Specifically, they have found that MARCKS is present before many of the other pathological hallmarks of Parkinson’s (such as Lewy bodies) even appear. But what does this mean? And what can we do with this information?

In today’s post, we will look at what MARCKS is, what new research suggests, and how the research community are attempting to target this protein.

 


Where does it all begin? Source: Cafi

One of the most interesting people I met during my time doing Parkinson’s assessment clinics was an ex-fire forensic investigator.

We would generally start each PD assessment session with a “brief history” of life and employment – it is a nice ice breaker to the appointment, helped to relax the individual by focusing on a familiar topic, and it could provide an indication of potential issues to consider in the context of Parkinson’s – such as job related stress or exposure to other potential risk factors (eg. pesticides, etc).

Source: Assessment

But so fascinated was I with the past emplyoment of the ex-fire forensic investigator gentleman that the “brief history” was anything but brief.

We had a long conversation.

One aspect of fire forensics that particularly fascinated me was the way he could walk into a recently burned down property, and he could “read the story backwards” to identify the root cause of the fire.

He could start anywhere on a burnt out property and find his way back to the source (and also determine if the fire was accidental or deliberate).

Where did it all start? Source: Morestina

I marvelled at this idea.

And I can remember wondering “why can’t we do that with Parkinson’s?

Well, recently some Japanese researchers have had a crack at “reading the story backwards” and they found something rather interesting.

What did they find?

Continue reading “On your MARCKS. Get set. Go”

From Alchemy to Alkahest

 

Numerous readers have asked about a curious new clinical trial being conducted by a biotech firm called ‘Alkahest’. The company has recently initiated a large (90 participants) Phase II study of their Parkinson’s-focused treatment called GRF6021.

This is an experimental, intravenously-administered treatment, which is derived from a components of blood.

In today’s post, we will discuss some of the research behind GRF6021, what this new clinical trial involves, and have a look at some other interesting Parkinson’s-related activities that Alkahest has ongoing.

 


Source: SFN

The Society of Neuroscience meeting is the largest annual research conference on brain relelated research, bringing approximately 40,000 neuroscientists together in October. At the Society of Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this year, however, there was considerable interest focused on several presentations dealing with blood.

The first presentation was from a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The research team – led by group leader Dr Saul Villeda – were presenting new data suggesting that circulating immune cells were most likely responsible for the age-related reduction in neurogenesis (formation of new neurons) that occurs in certain areas of the brain (Click here to read the abstract for this presentation). They reported that the aged hematopoietic (blood) system led to impaired neurogenesis. Their take-home-message: the older the blood system, the less new cells being produced by the brain.

Sounds interesting right?

Well, at the same time in another part of the conference a second group of researchers were presenting equally impressive data: They have zeroed in of a small fraction of normal, young blood that they believe has interesting properties, particularly in reversing the cognitive deficits associated with aging mice (Click here to read the abstract of this presentation).

Their research has even narrowed down to a specific protein, called C-C chemokine receptor type 3 (or CCR3), which when inhibited was found to improve cognitive function and decreased neuroinflammation in aged mice (Click here to read the abstract of the presentation).

The humble lab mouse. Source: Pinterest

But specifically for our interests here at the SoPD, these same researchers displayed data which demonstrated that treatment with a novel fraction of human plasma resulted in significant improvements in motor function, cell survival and neuroinflammation three weeks after treatment in multiple mouse models of Parkinson’s (Click here to read the abstract of the poster).

(PLEASE NOTE: The author of this blog was not present at the SFN meeting and is working solely with the abstracts provided)

This second group of scientists were from a company called Alkahest, and they have recently started a clinical trial for people with Parkinson’s based on these results. That trial has garnered quite a bit of interest in the Parkinson’s community.What do Alkahest do?

Continue reading “From Alchemy to Alkahest”

Denali: Phase Ib clinical trial starts

 

Biotech firm Denali announced the dosing of the first person in their Phase Ib clinical study of their experimental treatment for Parkinson’s called DNL201.

DNL201 is an inhibitor of a Parkinson’s-associated protein called Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2).

In Parkinson’s, there is evidence that LRRK2 is over activate, and by inhibiting LRRK2 Denali is hoping to slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

In today’s post, we will discuss what LRRK2 is, what evidence exists for DNL201, and what the new clinical trial will involve.

 


 

Founded in 2013, by a group of former Genentech executives, San Francisco-based Denali Therapeutics is a biotech company which is focused on developing novel therapies for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Although they have product development programs for other condition (such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s is their primary interest.

And their target for therapeutic effect?

The Parkinson’s-associated protein called Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2).

What is LRRK2?

Continue reading “Denali: Phase Ib clinical trial starts”

Wanted: EEF2K inhibitors

Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (or NRF2) is a protein in each of your cells that plays a major role in regulating resistance to stress. As a result of this function, NRF2 is also the target of a lot of research focused on neuroprotection.

A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia have recently published interesting findings that point towards to a biological pathway that could help us to better harness the beneficial effects of NRF2 in Parkinson’s.

In today’s post, we will discuss what NRF2 is, what the new research suggests, and how we could potentially make use of this new information.


GettyImages-548553969-56a134395f9b58b7d0bd00df

Rusting iron. Source: Thoughtco

In his book ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard‘, author Alan Bradley wrote:

Oxidation nibbles more slowly – more delicately, like a tortoise – at the world around us, without a flame, we call it rust and we sometimes scarcely notice as it goes about its business consuming everything from hairpins to whole civilizations

And he was right on the money.

Oxidation is the loss of electrons from a molecule, which in turn destabilises that particular molecule. It is a process that is going on all around us – even within us.

Iron rusting is the example that is usually used to explain oxidation. Rust is the oxidation of iron – in the presence of oxygen and water, iron molecules will lose electrons over time. And given enough time, this results in the complete break down of objects made of iron.

The combustion process of fire is another example, albeit a very rapid form of oxidation.

Oxidation is one half of a process called Redox – the other half being reduction (which involves the gaining of electrons).

The redox process. Source: Academic

Here is a video that explains the redox process:

Now it is important to understand, that oxidation also occurs in biology.

Molecules in your body go through the same process of losing electrons and becoming unstable. This chemical reaction leads to the production of what we call free radicals, which can then go on to damage cells.

What is a free radical?

Continue reading “Wanted: EEF2K inhibitors”