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New Chemical Approach to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Synthetic sugars block brain enzyme (May 29)

Scientists in the UK and New Zealand have developed a new chemical approach to help harness the natural ability of complex sugars to treat Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The team used a new chemical method to produce a library of sugars, called heparan sulphates, which are known to control the formation of proteins in the brain that cause memory loss.

Heparan sulphates are found in nearly every cell of the body and are similar to the natural blood-thinning drug heparin. The researchers have discovered how to produce these sugars chemically in the laboratory, and have found that some of them can inhibit an enzyme that creates small proteins in the brain.

These proteins, called amyloid, disrupt the normal function of cells, leading to the progressive memory loss that is characteristic of AD.

“We are targeting an enzyme called BACE, which is responsible for creating the amyloid protein,” said Professor Jerry Turnbull. “The amyloid builds up in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease and causes damage. BACE has proved to be a difficult enzyme to block despite lots of efforts by drug companies.

“We are using a new approach, harnessing the natural ability of sugars, based on the blood-thinning drug heparin, to block the action of BACE.”

Source: University of Liverpool; May 29, 2013.

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