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Snake venom may hold key to breaking down plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease

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3 March 2016

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A toxic protein called amyloid beta is thought  to play a key role in the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In healthy people,  amyloid beta is degraded by enzymes as it forms. However, in those patients with  the disease, it appears as though these enzymes are unable to adequately perform  their actions so that this toxic protein ends up accumulating into plaque  deposits, which many researchers consider leads to dementia.

One of the Holy Grails of the  pharmaceutical industry has been to find a drug that stimulates these enzymes  in people, particularly those who are in the early stages of dementia, when  amyloid plaques are just starting to accumulate.

Now Monash researchers leading a team of  international collaborators have discovered what could well be this elusive  drug candidate– a molecule in snake venom that appears to activate the enzymes  involved in breaking down the amyloid plaques in the brain that are the hallmark  of Alzheimer's Disease. Dr Sanjaya Kuruppu, and Prof Ian Smith from Monash  University's Biomedicine  Discovery Institute have just published their research in Nature's Scientific  Reports.

Dr Kuruppu is also one of four researchers  in Australia to win a prestigious award from the National Foundation for  Medical Research and Innovation. This award will enable him to test this novel  molecule in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.Dr Kuruppu has spent most of his research  life studying snake venoms, looking for drug candidates.  When he began researching Alzheimer's Disease  he says that "snake venom was an obvious place for me to start."

He was looking for a molecule that would  stimulate the enzymes to break down the amyloid plaques.  What he found, when screening various snake  venoms, was in fact one molecule with the ability to enhance the activity of  two plaque degrading enzymes. This molecule was extracted from a venom of a pit  viper found in South and Central America. Dr. Kuruppu and his team has  developed synthetic versions of this molecule. Initial tests done in the  laboratory using human cells have shown it to have the same effects as the  native version found in the snake venom.

For those wanting to read the full paper in Nature Scientific Reports click here

The  newly established Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University is  committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of  disease. Bringing together more than 100 internationally-renowned research  teams, our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure  and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to  enhance lives through discovery.

Contact name: Ruth Schneider

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