Could iron nanoparticles diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease?

A Florey research team is a key part of a consortium developing a highly novel Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment platform after being awarded a $1M Alzheimer’s grant.

The Melbourne Dementia Research Centre will turn iron nanoparticles into mini magic bullets, that home in on the damaged parts of the Alzheimer’s brain to deliver therapeutic drugs that stop or slow brain cell death.

Professor Ashley Bush, director of the Centre, and Professor Frank Caruso from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology will lead the team developing the therapeutic nanoparticles.

Other members of the collaboration include Professor Perminder Sachdev from the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing in Sydney and researchers from the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine and the University of New South Wales.

Professor Bob Williamson, Scientific Director of the Yulgilbar Alzheimer’s Research Program which jointly awarded the grant with the Dementia Australia Research Foundation said,

“This offers a chance of better, more rapid and accurate diagnosis, and in the long run the team hope to show that the nanoparticles may be used to piggy-back drugs into the brain to delay or treat dementia.”

The project has two broad aims: Firstly, to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which currently involves painful lumbar punctures or injections with radioactive tracers.

Secondly, to develop new therapies, using the nanoparticles’ special properties.

To improve diagnosis, the nanoparticles will be coated with antibodies to the amyloid peptide, allowing them to bind to the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, and then image patient’s brains in a magnetic resonance (MR) imaging machine.

The nanoparticles ramp up the contrast in MR images.

MRIs are now widespread in the community, cheap to run and offer a non-invasive method of examining the living brain.

The high-contrast brain images would allow doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease much more quickly, cheaply and less invasively than current methods.

Professor Bush’s team will be responsible for turning the nanoparticles into therapeutic agents that deliver drugs to prevent or delay brain cell death. This destruction of brain tissue ultimately underlies the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We hope that within three years we will have a good handle on how to coat the nanoparticles with our drugs of interest, and we plan to have completed preclinical experiments. Following that we can start human safety and efficacy trials.”