The decision to grant a patent for the use of genistein in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease

Dr Karolina Pierzynowska

The Polish Patent Office has decided to grant researchers from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Gdańsk a patent for the invention entitled 'Genisteina do zastosowania do leczenia choroby Alzheimera'. (TN: Genistein for application in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease). Researchers from UG have shown in their studies that genistein, a flavonoid found in soya, among others, has great potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

The patent is the result of scientists' work at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Gdańsk. The creators of the invention are employees of the Department of Molecular Biology, prof. dr hab. Grzegorz Węgrzyn, dr Karolina Pierzynowska, dr Lidia Gaffke and dr Magdalena Podlacha, as well as employees of the Department of Animal and Human Physiology, dr Dorota Myślińska and dr Irena Majkutewicz.

- 'Neurodegenerative diseases cause a number of severe symptoms in the body and represent a major medical challenge of our time. This is because neurons, or nerve cells, have very poor regenerative properties. Once broken down, they can hardly repair themselves, as is the case with skin or liver cells. It turns out that the damage and death of nerve cells may be due to the accumulation of pathological proteins in them. In theory, a relatively simple solution would seem to be to remove such proteins from neurons, which would improve their functioning. However, this approach turned out to be very difficult in practice, as the substance that would accomplish this would have to have many properties, not only remove pathogenic proteins but also cross the blood-brain barrier and be safe for patients,' says dr Karolina Pierzynowska from the Department of Molecular Biology, Faculty of Biology, UG, involved in the project.

Researchers from the Department of Molecular Biology of the UG have managed to find a molecule that has all of the above-mentioned characteristics. They characterise a substance called genistein, an isoflavone present, among others, in soya and other legumes.

- 'Genistein activates processes that can remove pathogenic proteins non-selectively, without removing proteins that function properly,' explains dr Karolina Pierzynowska. - 'We have already started studies on animal models of two neurodegenerative diseases, Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's disease, which are currently ongoing. In both diseases, we tested whether the animals could be cured of memory disorders, anxiety behaviour disorders and motor abnormalities. Behavioural tests have conclusively indicated that genistein leads to improvements in sick animals, and in some aspects animals treated with this isoflavone were completely indistinguishable from healthy animals. Our results show an improvement in both the behaviour of the animals and a decrease in the levels of toxic proteins in the brain.'

However, the path from discovering the effectiveness of a substance in the laboratory to administering it to patients is complicated. Discussions are currently underway with the medical community interested in the UG scientists' discovery.

- 'Our research has already aroused wide interest, both among scientists and pharmaceutical companies. Of course, before the potential introduction of this treatment method into practice, it is necessary to conduct numerous studies, both animal model experiments and all phases of clinical trials. Nevertheless, obtaining a patent makes it much easier to apply for funds and future work partnerships,' - says prof. dr hab. Grzegorz Węgrzyn

- 'Currently, in the context of genistein application in Alzheimer's disease treatment, we have established cooperation with one of the university medical centres and an institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences. We plan to submit a grant application for research with the participation of patients. Time will tell whether genistein will get its chance as a medicine,' adds dr K. Pierzynowska.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska / Press Office of University of Gdańsk