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New tool seeks early detection of Alzheimer's

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Susan Liebman
Susan Liebman: developing a new tool to study early stages of Alzheimer's.

Photo: Grant Therkildsen

A century ago this month, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer formally described characteristics of the neurodegenerative disease which ultimately came to bear his name.

While international efforts to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and develop treatments have progressed significantly in recent years, a cure remains an elusive goal.

A new research tool developed by Susan Liebman, distinguished university professor of biological sciences, could provide a means for treating the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s, stemming its progression.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the formation of plaques in the brain largely composed of fibers made from a peptide called beta-amyloid, or A-beta, for short.

There is abundant evidence to support the hypothesis that accumulation of A-beta peptide triggers the appearance of Alzheimer’s. But while earlier research suggested the A-beta fiber caused Alzheimer’s, recent research points at much smaller aggregates of the peptide as the culprit.

“We’ve developed a yeast model system in which A-beta small aggregate formation can be detected,” said Liebman.

Liebman said the yeast model system can be used to develop an automated process that will allow for both the screen and fast testing of many compounds. Medicinal chemists would then study the structures of compounds that pass the screen and design treatments that prevent the smaller aggregates of peptides from forming without being toxic. Animal and human trials would follow.

The findings were reported in BMC Biology, where the report was the journal’s most viewed article last month. UIC graduate student Sviatoslav Bagriantsev worked on the project in Liebman’s laboratory and co-authored the paper.

The research was supported by a grant from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Listen to a podcast interview with Susan Liebman.

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