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Advances in the battle against Alzheimer

24 June 2010

Groningen researchers Marcelo Masman and Ivica Granic have made some promising discoveries in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. Masman has developed what could be a new medicine to combat Alzheimer’s in its early stages. Granic has proved that the drug can delay memory loss in mice. He also discovered that the cholesterol-lowering drug Lovastatine can provide protection against nerve cell loss in the brain.
Granic and Masman will each be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 2 and 5 July 2010 respectively.

Alzheimer’s disease reveals itself in a complex manner, with damage to brain cells leading to a dramatic decline in memory, emotions and thought processes. One of the disease’s causes is the agglomeration of amyloid-beta protein, which is fatal for nerve cells in the brain. ‘The drugs available today can delay the progress of Alzheimer’s but they are incapable of stopping the deterioration,’ Masman says. ‘Our potential new drug can strike the disease at its root.’

Targeted attack

Masman developed peptides (short amino acid chains) which counteract the toxic agglomeration and thus prevent the poisoning effect on brain tissue. The peptides were first researched using advanced computer models which mimicked the disease process as realistically as possible. ‘I can simulate various scenarios like this and I focused on really understanding what happens during the disease process. I charted the strong and the weak points of amyloid-beta protein in order to be able to develop a peptide capable of targeting its attack on the protein.’

Highly effective

Masman collaborated closely during his research with fellow PhD student Ivica Granic, who developed and evaluated several new therapeutic strategies for preventing Alzheimer’s disease. ‘Based on the results of the computer models, I tested the most successful peptides for their capability to protect brain cells,’ says Granic. ‘Only once we were relatively certain that our design would work, did Granic test the drug on cell lines and on mice,’ according to Masman. ‘This proved that our discovery is very effective in preventing brain damage and the related memory loss.’

Step in the right direction

Granic also discovered that the cholesterol-reducing drug Lovastatine as well as so-called calpain inhibitors are potential tools in combating the Alzheimer’s disease process. ‘I’ve tested drugs that act on some of the fundamental causes of Alzheimer’s,’ Granic explains. ‘My research showed that Lovastatine and calpain inhibitors may also offer some protection against nerve cell death in the brain and the related memory loss. This is a step in the right direction which could possibly lead to developing a new medicine.’

Not magic

Although both PhD candidates are delighted by the recent developments, they emphasize that the battle against Alzheimer’s is far from over. ‘We must be very cautious about our research results – it’s not magic,’ Masman says. ‘The drug hasn’t been tested on people yet. Although this development is certainly promising, it could take another fifteen to twenty years before a drug reaches the marketplace.’

Curricula Vitae

Ivica Granic (Germany, 1979) studied biology at the University of Stuttgart and did his PhD research at the Molecular Neurobiology department of the Groningen Centre for Behaviour and Neurosciences (CBN) of the University of Groningen. The research was funded by the International Foundation for Alzheimer Research (ISAO), the Netherlands Brain Foundation (Hersenstichting Nederland), the Gratama Foundation and a European Union FP6 NeuroprMiSe LSHM-CT-2005-018637 grant.
Granic will be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and was supervised by Prof. U.L.M. Eisel, Prof. P.G.M. Luiten and Prof. C.J. Nyakas.  His thesis is entitled Neurodegenerative Mechanisms in Alzheimer’s Disease - Amyloid Aggregation, Neuroinflammation and Apoptosis. Granic is now a postdoc at Radboud University Nijmegen.
Marcelo Masman (Argentina, 1979) studied Computational Medicinal Chemistry at the Universidad Nacionale de San Luis and did his PhD research at the Molecular Neurobiology department of the Groningen Centre for Behaviour and Neurosciences (CBN) of the University of Groningen. Half of his research was funded by CONICET Argentina. Masman will be awarded his PhD by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and was supervised by Prof. P.G.M. Luiten, R.D. Enriz, Prof. S.J. Marrink and Prof. U.L.M. Eisel. His thesis is entitled Development of Novel Small-Size Peptides as Putative Therapeutic Drugs. Masman works as a researcher in the Neurology department of the University Medical Center Groningen.

Note for the press

Contact: Ivica Granic, tel. 024-361 0650, e-mail: i.granic@ncmls.ru.nl (can speak Dutch)
Marcelo Masman, tel. 050-363 2337, e-mail: m.f.masman@rug.nl (speaks English)

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.
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