A new drug for the treatment of diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease may be developed within the next 10 years.
Scientists based at Imperial College have discovered a method to turn off a specific enzyme which is the driver of many incurable diseases.
An enzyme called N-myristoyltransferase (NMT) initiates irreversible protein changes which prevent damaged cells from dying and speeds up its replication, which causes cancer.
It may also be responsible for the resistance of cancers to chemotherapy.
Scientists believe that it may be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease, but they are not clear on the exact process.
Researchers have identified in excess of 100 proteins that the enzyme works with and have found a molecule which can turn it off. This breakthrough could result in the development of a new generation of drugs which could be used in the treatment of several different diseases.
The lead researcher from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, Professor Ed Tate, said the study opens a new road to the treatment of these diseases and is very different to the drugs which are currently being developed. He said the group has a wider view of how NMT works, and, more importantly, how it can be stopped.
The team hopes that this may eventually result in popping a pill, however it could take around 10 years to market a drug as there are several hurdles to overcome.
The team is of the opinion that the same enzyme may be responsible for auto-immune diseases, such as parasitic infections and diabetes.
The scientists used living human cancer cells in the identification of more than 100 proteins which are affected by NMT.
In one of their experiments, the team programmed cells to die, as would normally happen during chemotherapy, and found out that the enzyme inhibited the process.
Researchers hope that a drug with the ability to turn off the enzyme could be used to stop cancers from becoming resistant to drugs.
The complexity of the work done resulted in a new set of equipment being developed over a period of several years to examine the impact of the enzyme.
The next steps are to develop the idea and a drug, however there is a long road ahead before it will be safe and effective for human use.
Image Credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier