UMEÅ, Sweden — Nanoparticles are becoming a major player in medicine, as these tiny substances are capable of passing through barriers to reach the brain. Now, scientists have discovered that nano-sized molecules of a certain chemical element can dissolve and even prevent harmful plaques from forming in brain tissue. The findings may lead to new treatments which prevent these build-ups from leading to neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
“This is indeed a very important step that may form the basis of new and efficient treatments of neurodegenerative diseases in the future,” says Professor Ludmilla Morozova-Roche of Umeå University in a release.
What causes plaques to form in the brain?
When the body’s proteins start to fold incorrectly, they form unbreakable fibrils called amyloids. These proteins don’t dissolve and start to form larger plaques that can block off electrical signals in the brain.
Along with being one of the main triggers of dementia, amyloids can also play a role in the onset of Parkinson’s, Corino de Andrade’s, and mad cow disease. These buildups literally kill off neurons in the brain, leading to cognitive decline and eventually death.
In this study, researchers found certain nano-molecules hinder the pro-inflammatory proteins S100A9 from forming harmful amyloids. Additionally, these molecules also dissolve already-formed plaques, according to scans using atomic force microscopy.
Study authors note these molecules are tiny polyoxoniobates, which they explain are “polyoxometalate ions with a negative charge containing the chemical element niobium.”
Along with being extremely small, they are both chemically stable and water-soluble, making them appealing to other scientists looking to make implants that are compatible with the human body.
“Further research is needed before we can safely say that functioning treatments can be derived from this, but the results so far have proven very promising,” says Ludmilla Morozova-Roche.
The findings appear in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.