Scientists working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease find it hard to develop drugs that will pass through the highly selective blood-brain barrier. That may be why a Tel Aviv University researcher decided to take an alternate route — through the nose.
Scientists widely agree that plaque formation is what causes the onslaught of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Administering a harmless bacterial virus known as a “filamentous phage” through nasal passages, Prof. Beka Solomon of the university’s Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology Department sends her phages to the brain where they lock onto plaques associated with Alzheimer’s.
"Phages dissolve plaque," Prof. Solomon explains. “The phages are going into the brain, they do their work, and then the body gets rid of them.” She recently presented her findings in Canada at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease that leads to memory loss, confusion, and much suffering for the afflicted and their loved ones. There is currently no drug on the market that can cure or effectively stop progression of the disease. Drug developers, says Prof. Solomon, “tend to focus on dissolving and preventing plaque formation, but the new approach prevents the unwanted side-effects shown by other therapies.”
The idea of sending a treatment through the nasal passage was a logical one for Prof. Solomon, since Alzheimer’s plaques first appear in the olfactory bulb. That’s why one of the early symptoms of the much-dreaded disease is loss of smell. To test her hypothesis, Prof. Solomon treated mice with the phage, and found that those mice which had exhibited Alzheimer’s symptoms regained their sense of smell and demonstrated memory improvement. After one year of treatment, they had 80 percent fewer plaques than untreated mice.
“Beka is a real pioneer in developing an immunotherapeutic approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Irit Ben-Chlouch, Director of Business Development, Life Sciences at Ramot, the university’s commercial arm. “She was the first to show the disease can be treated using antibodies and, as the main focus of her lab, has developed several different breakthrough approaches.” Ben-Chelouche is commercializing the technology through Ramot on behalf of Tel Aviv University.
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