Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, in cooperation with colleagues from the University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland, have developed self-illuminating polymers with the ability to home in on toxic prions and render them harmless.
These luminescent conjugated polymers (LCPs) represent a novel class of antiprion agents offer the potential to cure fatal nerve-destroying illnesses.
Prion disease is a group of progressive conditions that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. Human prion diseases include sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Kuru, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker Syndrome. Prion illnesses can be inherited, occur spontaneously or through infection, such as from ingesting meat infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease.
The researchers say this is the first time anyone has been able to demonstrate the possibility of treating these types of illnesses with LCP molecules. In a study recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the team tested the LCPs on tissue sections infected with prions. The results indicate that the number of prions, as well as their toxicity and infectibility, decreased drastically.
Scientists are hopeful that the effects on prion infections seen with this research will translate to work on other nervous-system diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. They plan to expand their studies towards such efforts and look at further customizing the molecules.
This Swedish-Swiss study was supported in part by the Luminescent Polymers for In vivo Imaging of Amyloid Signatures (LUPAS) project, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Novartis Research Foundation, and the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).