NYU-Poly, NYU Scientists Working to Develop Early Diagnostic Tool for Alzheimers

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older people, affecting as many as 2.4 million to 4.5 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Aging. Now, under a two-year $80,000 New Investigator Research Grant from the Alzheimer’s Association, Jin Ryoun Kim, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Polytechnic Institute of NYU, is leading a team of researchers working to eradicate the disease.

The team’s goal is to develop a biochemical probe that would reveal toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Developing an early, reliable diagnostic tool could enable researchers to develop drug-like compounds to prevent the disease. Working on the grant with Kim is Paramjit Arora, associate professor in NYU’s Department of Chemistry; Mary Cowman, professor in NYU-Poly’s Department of Chemical and Biological Science; and Jorge Ghiso, NYU School of Medicine associate professor.

What triggers Alzheimer’s, Kim explains, is protein aggregation, in which a protein molecule sticks to neighboring identical molecules, ending up as a toxic form that interferes with normal brain functioning. Toxic molecules generated during the aggregation process have been directly linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, they are difficult to detect and can change structure or biological effect quickly.

“It’s like going after a moving target,” says Kim. “Detection must be very rapid, specific, and quantitative. We’re trying to develop a biochemical compound that can detect the toxic protein molecule and report its presence right away.”