Discovery Magazine

Alzheimer's Disease Research

Lack of memory formation associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins when molecules of brain proteins called “A-beta” and “tau” do something very abnormal; they stick together, or “aggregate” to form dense fibers of a material called “amyloid” that the brain cannot remove, which accumulate for years until the cells are literally strangled by a tangle of filaments.  Although many researchers study memory formation and Alzheimer’s, attempts to find a treatment have made very little progress because most research seeks an immediate cure without an understanding of the basic biochemical mechanism of the disease. Our theory explains many of these mysteries by showing that Alzheimer’s behave as “colloids”, tiny particles like those found in milk or ink. But because the theory is new, proof is essential before it will be accepted throughout the scientific community. Through CFB support we have been able to acquire an instrument to monitor the aggregation of protein molecules into fibers early in the pathogenesis of AD, prior to apparent lack of memory formation. This will help us identify chemicals which can prevent this aggregation and may be potential drug candidates for Alzheimer’s disease and the lack of memory formation. We have studied amyloid fiber formation with lysozyme, a readily available protein used to develop and verify our methods. We have purchased small samples of the human proteins a-beta, critical to Alzheimer’s disease, and are in the process of characterizing the process of fiber formation using them.

To go further we must set up our own laboratory to produce large quantities of the human protein that actually causes the disease, called tau. We have the cloned DNA that allows the human body to produce tau protein, and we are ready to insert it into bacteria which will allow us to produce human tau protein in substantial quantities. Once we have done so, we will be able to use our experimental model to duplicate the process by which protein aggregates in Alzheimer’s, and study how effectively potential drugs can inhibit the process and prevent the lack of memory formation. To make this possible, we need to strengthen the capabilities of our biochemistry laboratory.  Many students at both the undergraduate and graduate level will benefit from the new protein chemistry laboratory at Florida Tech.