It involves the detection of plaques that can develop in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease years before the onset of memory loss and other symptoms. The plaques are hard to detect with conventional medical imaging techniques.
Currently, it is difficult to concentrate enough contrast agents at the sites of the plaques to highlight them during an MRI, report project investigators Ananth Annapragada, Ph.D., the Robert H. Graham Professor of Entrepreneurial Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering at the UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics and Jason Eriksen, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology at UH.
Their solution is to package contrast agents in nanocarriers engineered to seek out the plaque. It has worked in a mouse model and additional tests are underway. About a thousand times smaller than a strand of hair, the nanocarriers are administered intravenously and can also transport therapeutics. “The imaging agents allow us to peek at the diseased area and the therapeutic agents allow us to treat it. Thus the nickname peek and treat,” Annapragada said. Research is focused on amyloid-beta plaques.
If the drug delivery system proceeds to clinical trials and proves effective, it could provide enhanced imaging in patients using MRI at a resolution far exceeding current capabilities. It also could be used for the targeted delivery of a variety of therapeutic agents. “These nanocarriers allow us to deliver a nearly unlimited variety of compounds to the brain. Since we can perform high-resolution imaging of amyloid-beta with this technology, we will be able to determine if a drug treatment effectively hits its target, early on in the disease process,” Eriksen said.
Their work is supported by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund™ (CAF), a public charity established to provide funding for targeted research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. “The pioneering research being done at UTHealth and UH on Alzheimer’s disease is helping to better understand this devastating disease and could lead to better ways to reverse its effects and even find a cure,” CAF president and CEO Tim Armour said.
Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5.3 million Americans and their families and is a common cause of dementia in the elderly, reports the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund™.
Eric Ambe Tanifum, Ph.D., a UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics postdoctoral fellow involved in the project, said, “Plaque buildup can occur 10 to 20 years before the onset of clinical symptoms.”
Another UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics postdoctoral fellow on the project, Indrani Dasgupta, Ph.D., said the nanocarriers are capable of binding plaques both inside and outside blood vessels, efficiently crossing the blood brain barrier in a brain with Alzheimer’s disease.
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