30 November 2016

Danish research paves the way for new treatments of the brain


Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen have developed new compounds that affect receptors in the brain in such a way that side effects in treatments of e.g. sleeping disorders, anxiety and epilepsy could potentially be a thing of the past.

New research results from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen pave the way for advanced medical treatments of brain diseases. The results have just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Nature Chemical Biology.

Developing drugs for treatments of brain diseases is highly complicated, not least because it is difficult to get “access” to the relevant nerve cells in the brain. The medication must make its way through the refractory blood-brain barrier and then from the outer cell wall all the way into the cell, which traditionally poses a huge challenge. However, this new research targets peptides (bits of protein), which are able to move through the cell membrane and thus inhibit the process within the cell that is causing the disease.

Great precision in the treatment of diseases
The so-called GABA-A-receptor is a target for various drugs used in treating e.g. insomnia, anxiety and epilepsy. This type of treatment affects the receptor and thus stop the development of the disease. However, these drugs affect proteins on the cell’s exterior by blocking the receptor, which includes shutting down every other vital function of the receptor and this can cause side effects. 

"“If everything goes according to plan, in the future, we’ll be able to work on a much more precise and targeted biochemical treatment of a number of complicated diseases. By focusing on the protein structures inside the nerve cell, we may be able to reduce troublesome side effects"

Kristian Strømgaard, Professor of Chemical Biology at the Center for Biopharmaceuticals 

Now, however, a Danish research team have developed and refined a compound, a peptide with specific qualities, which is “transported” through the cell membrane. By ensuring that the compound affects the cell’s protein structures inside the cell membrane, the researchers will potentially be able to hinder undesirable and unnecessary side effects with great precision, i.e. the cell’s additional functions will not be “generally bombarded”, which is what happens when using the drugs that are currently available.

Groundbreaking visualization of the effect of drugs
As part of the project, the research team marked the peptides with a fluorescent moiety, which enabled them to actually see how the peptides inhibit the proteins inside the cell by way of high resolution scans. This also enabled the researchers to map and visualize how drugs affect the brain’s functional areas. This sophisticated method paves the way for potentially new and precise treatments of a number of nerve diseases, which can often only be treated symptomatically. 

Contact information 

Professor of Chemical Biology Kristian Strømgaard from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen 
Phone: +1 (857) 971 0097

Senior Communications Consultant at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the University of Copenhagen, Andreas Westergaard
Phone: +45 5359 3280