Engineering Professor Secures Grant for Groundbreaking Alzheimer's Disease Research
Last year, Dr. Sachin Patil, assistant professor of chemical engineering, published
a hypothesis on Alzheimer’s disease in the peer-reviewed journal Medical Hypotheses. His research discovered that improving one’s level of glucose metabolism in the
brain could increase a binding protein which is found to be low in Alzheimer’s patients,
and one of its causes.
Patil's published work received interest from Dr. George Perry, the world's leading Alzheimer's researcher. With that support, Patil began to examine the relationship further, which recently led to him securing a $93,550 New Investigator Research Grant from the Alzheimer's Association.
Alzheimer's Association research grants are made to advance the understanding of Alzheimer's, help identify new treatment strategies, provide information to improve care for people with dementia, and further knowledge to foster brain health and disease prevention. The New Investigator Research Grant is given to those who are less than 10 years past their doctoral degree. Its purpose is to provide new independent investigators with funding that allows them to develop their hypothesis.
Patil will receive the full grant over the next two years. During this time he will continue to study his hypothesis with the support of Dr. Fred Akl, dean of the School of Engineering, and the assistance of students. "I would not have been able to come so far in my research if it wasn't for the support of the dean and the School of Engineering," Patil said.
The next steps will be to determine the exact relationship between genetic and metabolic abnormalities, which, it is suspected, play a role in Alzheimer's development. This is the first study to investigate a potential relationship between these two abnormalities. Patil hopes to discover novel molecules that will enhance glucose metabolism leading to increases in Apolipoprotein (ApoE), the binding protein that is low in Alzheimer's patients.
"Though the brain may only be 2 percent of the body's weight, it uses approximately 25 percent of the total body glucose consumption," Patil said. "In Alzheimer's, glucose metabolism is decreased by almost 50 percent. Thus, our hypothesis that glucose metabolism can affect ApoE means that if we can increase the brain glucose metabolism we may also be able to increase ApoE.
"Our drug discovery efforts will be primarily focused on testing the FDA–approved drugs that are currently being used against a variety of other disorders, as these drugs could hold an immediate clinical promise against Alzheimer's," Patil said. "This is highly imperative considering 77 million aging baby boomers are set to increase the Alzheimer's patient population significantly in the near future."
Before joining the faculty at Widener, Patil received his doctorate from Michigan State University where his thesis established, for the first time, the molecular mechanism by which saturated fatty acids play a causal role in the development of Alzheimer's.
While he likes the mystery of the brain, Patil said his real interest stems from the idea that there are no current effective treatments for Alzheimer's. He said that he believes there is a need for the development of novel drugs that will not only affect the symptomatic therapies, but also target the disease–modifying cellular pathways and have long lasting therapeutic effects against the devastating disease.
Patil, in collaboration with Dr. Pedro Ballester of University of Cambridge, recently discovered a novel drug that was chosen by the National Cancer Institute for extensive anti-cancer screening, which showed to be useful against a variety of human tumor cells. There are currently four more drugs being tested by the institute, and one senior project research group will be studying such drugs for their project this semester.