UOW scientists make age-related disease discovery

Therapies to prevent or treat age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are one step closer thanks to a new discovery involving scientists from the University of Wollongong.

Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute scientists have collaborated with researchers from the University of Oxford in the UK on a study that was published in a prestigious scientific journal on Tuesday.

Lead co-author of the study, UOW Associate Professor Heath Ecroyd, said the research represented a "significant finding in the worldwide race" to find new drugs to treat diseases of ageing.

"We're interested in diseases that are associated with ageing, in particular those associated with diseases that occur in the brain like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," he said.

"We're looking at ways in which the body normally tries to prevent the processes that occur in these diseases from happening to see if we can boost them when required in a disease context."

The researchers have focused on the naturally occurring "chaperone" proteins, which look after other proteins in a cell and make sure they don't clump together and become toxic.

"In the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, we are looking at a particular chaperone protein called alphaB-crystallin," Prof Ecroyd said.

"We want to narrow in on the part of this protein that is doing the crucial job of stopping other proteins from aggregating into big clumps.

"These clumps of proteins are what causes neurons to die in the brain and when they die this leads to the onset of disease, and then progression," he said.

"This causes loss of memory, problems with movement or other problems depending on the neurons that are affected."

By identifying the part of the protein responsible for preventing protein clumping, Prof Ecroyd said researchers could harness it to develop therapies or drugs to prevent or treat disease.

"Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and other diseases of the brain like Huntington's or even motor neurone disease all seem to be associated with this fundamental process of a protein becoming sticky and forming these clumps in the brain," he said.

"So instead of trying to find drugs for each of these different diseases, we're taking the lead from what's already in our bodies to try to find a generic approach to stop the process that occurs. Hopefully this will then be applicable to all these diseases."

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