UCF Researches Making Strides in Fighting Alzheimer’s

Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) are working on a new way to combat Alzheimer’s Disease and the initial research shows some promise.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease where plaque attacks central portions of the brain, damaging neurons so the brain cannot communicate with itself, tangling brain fibers, and leads to memory loss.

The discovery of the plaque on the brain and how it works led researchers at UCF to try and find if there is a way to destroy it without damaging healthy brain cells. Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) is responsible for repairing brain cells but is also is what forms the clumps of plaque in Alzheimer’s patients.

The research to find a way to fight it comes somewhat by accident.

Dr. Li-Mei Chen and Dr. Karl Chai of UCF were working on a cure for breast cancer when they discovered the enzyme matriptase is found in human milk. They were researching its ability to treat breast cancer but, after seven years, they are looking to see if matriptase can cut the plaque that causes Alzheimer’s Disease.

“The matriptase enzyme can cut the source protein of amyloid-beta, reduce amyloid-beta production and potentially clean out amyloid-beta clumps,” said Chen. “Hopefully it can cut away the already formed plaques.”

Because their focus was on cancer, not Alzheimer’s, Chen and Chai didn’t follow up on their discovery until they read another researcher’s paper in 2017. The paper, which appeared in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, discussed the enzyme’s potential uses in Alzheimer’s treatment. That caused the UCF researchers to revisit their work. They published a short report to inform and seek collaboration with other scientists. This month, they formed a collaboration with Drs. Richard Leduc and Christine Lavoie at the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada who wrote the 2017 paper.

Now the work is underway at UCF to see how well the enzyme can work.

UCF biomedical sciences undergraduate Jonathan Ruiz has been working with the research team since 2018. He said, in the lab, matriptase can cut and disable amyloid-beta clumps in just a few hours.

“To be able to contribute alongside so many other researchers to find new potential ways to fight Alzheimer’s disease has been an amazing experience,” said Ruiz who plans to attend UCF medical school after graduating next summer.

The next step will be to test the enzyme in mice and go from there. Worldwide there are an estimated 44 million Alzheimer’s patients and, as of today, there is no cure.


Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.


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