By Martin Graham
SCIENTISTS from the University of Edinburgh hope to discover the causes of Alzheimers disease, diabetes and cataracts in a new study examining the behaviour of tiny protein molecules.
The team of researchers will be studying insulin protein found in the body to try and establish why the molecules sometimes clump together as people get older.
This ‘clumping’ effect, known as aggregation, is thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related illnesses.
Dr Cait MacPhee, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who is leading the research, said: “We know that proteins often bunch together, causing processes in the body to break down.
“Because this problem is common to lots of diseases, we hope that if we can understand how it occurs, it will offer insights into a range of conditions that affect people as they get older.”
The clumping effect occurs in different proteins within the body, and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, sight loss and diabetes.
The build up of proteins causes the cloudy vision associated with cataracts.
Researchers will be trying to work out how the shapes of the molecules change when they begin to stick together.
Understanding how the misshapen proteins bind together will help researchers pinpoint the triggers that cause aggregation, which in turn will help the design of drugs to prevent this occurring.
Scientists will be focussing their research on the protein insulin, which the body uses to regulate sugar levels in the body.
The results should be applicable to all proteins found in the human body.
The three-year project has received £650,000 funding over the three years from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance.