By Angela Chen
A tiny ball of gold carrying medicine could help doctors fight Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have created a nanoparticle that is just the right size to target the overactive brain receptors that cause neurological disease, while leaving the rest of the receptors we need alone. This super-precise method could reduce the side effects of a common Alzheimer’s drug so doctors can prescribe it to help people during earlier stages of the condition.
Neurological problems can be caused by too much of a brain receptor called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA receptor for short). One Alzheimer’s treatment uses a drug called memantine to block these NMDA receptors. But memantine can’t tell the difference between the NMDA receptors we need to function and the extra ones that cause disease. It attacks them all. As a result, the side effects — like hallucinations and coma — are severe, and so memantine is mostly used for late-stage Alzheimer’s when the benefits outweigh the risks. Now, in a study published this month in Nano Letters, researchers led by Alex Savchenko at Stanford University and Elena Molokanova at the startup Nanotools Bioscience created a nanoparticle that only blocks the extra NMDA.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to target the receptors like this,” says Molokanova. “We hope that this can be brought to the clinic as fast as possible to be applied to Alzheimer’s and other diseases.”