Israeli scientists at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva have just completed a study proving an enzyme discovered in 2009 can delay development of Lou Gehrig's disease in laboratory mice -- a medical breakthrough that may carry massive implications for human sufferers with the disease.
The team led by Prof. Esther Priel, director of the School for Medical Laboratory Sciences, and colleagues Prof. Aviv Gazit and Prof. Shimon Slavin (both formerly of Hebrew University), together developed chemical compounds which boost the telomerase enzyme.
The enzyme slows the progress of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig's disease – in laboratory mice. Priel, of the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and students Erez Eitan and Eylon Tichon, showed that the compounds raise the levels of the protein enzyme telomerase in human cells, stem cells and lab mice.
The telomerase enzyme prolongs life, and prevents damage.
In 2009, scientists Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”
The current study by Priel's group, published in the EMBO Molecular Medicine Journal, showed that the compound can reach the brain and spinal cord, and increase production of telomerase.
“We show that by injecting the compound into mice which are developing ALS... we can successfully delay the development of the disease and increase the lifespan of the mice,” Priel said. “This is a scientific breakthrough,” she added, “since these compounds have great potential not just in fighting neurodegenerative diseases, but also other diseases related to aging.”
BGN Technologies, the tech transfer company for the university, has signed a $1 million research and licensing agreement with a private U.S. investment fund over the next two years to expand the study.