13 November 2020

The formation of abnormal proteins in the brain has long been suspected to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Yet many individuals with abnormal protein formations do not go on to develop such diseases.

World-leading NHMRC-supported research is pioneering the development of screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease and actively testing new drug approaches in proof-of-principle clinical trials based on an understanding of the interaction between neurodegenerative disease and metals.

Professor Ashley Bush discovered that the major forms of protein found in Alzheimer's disease are influenced by interactions with metal ions such as iron, copper and zinc.

Professor Bush, whose doctoral research had been supported by NHMRC years earlier, subsequently received three NHMRC Research Fellowships and an Australia Fellowship to support further development of this work.

‘It has always been a mystery with Alzheimer’s as to why everyone with the disease has got amyloid in the brain but not everyone with amyloid has Alzheimer’s disease.’

In the mid-2000s, Associate Professor Anthony White and his colleagues demonstrated that certain organic molecules had the potential to redistribute copper within the brain. Professor White, Associate Professor Kevin Barnham and Associate Professor Peter Crouch, among others, collaborated to investigate the therapeutic potential of this approach for treating neurodegenerative diseases. Each of these researchers has received support from NHMRC over their careers.

Based on this research, Professor Bush co-founded a company that continues to develop first-in-class therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases. Barnham, Donnelly and White patented the use of CuATSM, a synthetic molecule containing copper that has shown promise as the first disease-modifying treatment for motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s disease. This patent was licensed in 2013 by a privately held United States–Australian biopharmaceutical company.

Application of these research findings could improve the quality of life of Australians with Alzheimer’s disease, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, and relieve the substantial personal and economic costs of these diseases.

Read the full impact case study.