Discovery by Masaryk University team can help treat Alzheimer's


Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative and irreversible brain disorder that causes intellectual impairment, disorientation and eventually death. Every fifth person over the age of 65 is believed to be affected by the condition - that's around 25 million people worldwide. A recent discovery by researchers from Masaryk University in Brno is a step forward in the preparation of anti-Alzheimer's drugs.

For more than a decade scientists from the Protein Engineering Group at Masaryk University have been studying a special group of enzymes. Enzymes are biological catalysts that facilitate various chemical reactions. They can also be used in synthesis of fine chemicals. The specific enzymes, studied by the team in Brno, and isolated in collaboration with Japanese scientists from Tohoku University in Sendai, occur naturally. Dr Zbynek Prokop of the Protein Engineering Group.

"One such enzyme was obtained from a micro-organism which lives in tight symbiosis on the roots of the soya been plant, providing nitrogen as a fertiliser. During the characterisation of this particular enzyme a new property was detected. This property has not been observed with any other enzyme of this family even though a number of research groups have been studying them for more than 20 years."

It was observed for the first time that these enzymes, called dehalogenases, can be used to produce optically active compounds of high purity - which have many potential uses.

"These compounds are important for the chemical industry. They can be used for preparation of drugs, agrochemicals or food additives. For example, the enzyme we found is highly effective for synthesis of optically pure alcohols. These compounds are key intermediates of several potential anti-Alzheimer drugs."

As Zbynek Prokop says, the technology is almost ready for commercial production.

"The technology is currently in the stage of patenting and further development. The Czech national patent application was submitted by Masaryk University last December and at the present time, we are looking for a company which would be interested to use our technology for production of fine chemicals."

Zbynek Prokop says the recent discovery has opened many possibilities for exciting further research. The team are planning to study mechanisms by which the enzymes catalyse chemical reactions, using computer simulations and also genetic engineering to prepare new - unnatural - enzymes for synthesis of novel compounds. At the same time, the Protein Engineering Group in Brno plan to continue with isolation and characterisation of enzymes from natural resources, like soil or deep-sea bacteria, and testing them for novel properties.

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