Algorithm may expose drug targets for Alzheimer's

Protein misfolding has been implicated in many different diseases ranging from certain forms of Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's to cancer. Now a research group hopes that its algorithm for predicting aspects of protein misfolding could lead to new targets for drugs and diagnostics.

Developed at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the algorithm includes thermodynamics equations to shed light on which regions of a protein will be exposed once it misfolds and how mutations of the proteins impact the function of cells. The exposed regions of misfolded proteins could be good weak points for drugs to attack or serve as biological signals for diagnostics, the group reported in a release.

The researchers applied the algorithm to study proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, which include memory-stealing Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. For Alzheimer's, which affects 5 million Americans, part of the difficulty in developing new drugs has been conflicting views of the disease biology. And President Obama has recently called on the scientific community to advance breakthrough treatments for the disease, given the lack of drugs that can cure or provide long-term benefits for patients with the illness.

The inventors of the algorithm have already used computer simulations to study protein misfolding in ALS and predict progression in a hereditary form of the disease, which robs people of their ability to move their arms and legs and often leads to respiratory failure. There are no effective marketed drugs for the disease.

- here's the group's release