Finding the cure for Parkinson’s disease with camel nanobodies

With a donation from the Lundbeck Foundation, Daniel Otzen and his’ team of researchers hope to develop the first cure for Parkinson’s disease. One of the methods employs nanobodies derived from alpaca llamas.

Today, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. In the future, this might change, if Daniel Otzen, professor at iNANO, Aarhus University, is successful with his research project using nano-technology.

“Our goal is to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, or at the very last slow the progression of the disease,” says Daniel Otzen, who is leading a team of experts at a research center called CytoPad, which stands for Targeting Cytotoxic Oligomers in Parkinson's Disease).

The research group is taking a broad approach by investigating and developing several molecules that can detect aggregated alpha-synuclein (a-syn), a protein believed to play a major role in Parkinson’s disease.

“Alpha-synuclein plays an absolutely central role in Parkinson’s disease. It aggregates in the brain and this somehow leads to the death of many different neurons, leading to Parkinson’s disease. We – like so many other researchers - want to understand this and stop it. Controlling and preventing aggregation could be a real game changer for people living with – or at risk of - Parkinson’s disease,” says Daniel Otzen.

Nanobodies from alpaca llamas
The research tackles the problem through various approaches which together make up what Daniel Otzen calls a “massive onslaught” to fight Parkinson’s disease.

“We will try to develop as many different binder molecules as possible that can detect these alpha-synuclein aggregates,” says Daniel Otzen. These binders include monoclonal antibodies, peptides selected by phage display, modified RNA aptamers and small molecules.

The hope is that the binders can either detect aggregates in human tissue or block aggregates from binding to other targets in the cell – or both.

One of the more fascinating approaches is the use of “miniaturized” camelid (alpaca) antibodies called nanobodies. These are more than ten times smaller than conventional antibodies, making them more stable and easier to work with.

Daniel Otzen concludes that “We already have promising results from several of our efforts and are confident that we will soon have a versatile armatory of different “missiles” that can be used in different contexts.”


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