Helpful PARKINSON’S Research from Physics and Astronomy?
A non-traditional physics lab at Michigan State University has been working to advance medical solutions by combining physics and biochemistry. And it is working.
Lisa Lapidus, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of physics and astronomy, was fascinated by the idea that eating spicy food could slow the development of PARKINSON’S DISEASE. So she undertook studies of the spice, curcumin, which is thought to be the major substance in tumeric often used in South East Asian curries and cooking. It has a reputation for being anti-inflammatory and helpful for osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, she found that the molecule of curcumin, while helpful in other diseases, was too large to pass across the blood brain barrier.
In doing that research, she learned about protein aggregations and studied the rate at which proteins mis-fold. Using lasers, she was able to study the rate at which proteins formed aggregates. She found that if the proteins fold either faster or slower than the rate at which they bump into each other, then aggregation is slow. However, if they are bumping into each other at the same rate as when they are reconfiguring, then they will swiftly clump together causing aggregation and neurodegeneration follows.
When a person with PARKINSON’S presents with the symptoms, the process of protein aggregation has already begun. However, there is a patented molecule, called CLR01, which mimics the action of curcumin to prevent protein aggregates from forming. And CLR01 is a small enough molecule that it can cross the blood brain barrier. This small CLR01 molecule can be sent to its target site and will speed up the reconfiguration of the proteins and actually stop the early stages of them forming aggregates. This molecule attaches to the amino acid lysine, which is part of the protein, and acts like a claw or a pair of molecular tweezers to prevent binding with other proteins.
This CLR01 molecule used in this way to prevent aggregations of proteins from forming in the brain is an excellent candidate for a new drug that can be used to stop PARKINSON’S DISEASE early in the game and keep it from becoming the disabling disease. Hopefully, this research will move to the clinical trial stages soon and become a valuable resource for treating not only PARKINSON’S DISEASE, but other neurodegenerative diseases too.
S. Achaya, B.M. Safaie, P Wonkonkathep, M.I. Ivanova, A. Attar, F.G. Klamer, T. Schrader, .J.S. Loo, G. Bitan, L.J. Lapidus. Molecular Basis for Preventing Synuclein Aggregation by a Molecular Tweezer; Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2014, 289 (15); 10727 DOI 10.1074/jbc.M113.524520
Review by Marcia McCall