Andrew Shin received a grant to study how the optimal dosage of the BCAA-lowering compound BT2 can effectively treat Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms.
Off the top of his head, neuroscientist Andrew Shin knows there are 55 million people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease (AD) or related dementia worldwide – with 5 million in the U.S. alone.
He has seen firsthand, with his maternal grandmother, how AD causes patients to slowly lose their memory and critical thinking followed by motor skills, vision and other abilities, until they can no longer function on a day-to-day basis.
This is devastating, not only to the patients but their families, friends and caretakers who also experience the painstaking progression.
“The problem is, as of now, there's no confirmed effective treatment strategy to either treat or cure Alzheimer's Disease,” Shin said. “So that's why there's an increasing urgency to develop or identify new strategies for prevention.”
Shin, a nutritional sciences assistant professor in Texas Tech University's College of Human Sciences and the director of the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Facility, aims to change this through a three-year, $199,918 grant he received in August from the Alzheimer's Association to expand his research into a compound he believes can slow AD symptoms.
“I was very happy when I secured this grant,” he said. “That gives me the funding power to plow through this research that I think is really important by leading a team of very important people in the lab. Whether it's undergraduate students, graduate students or technicians, their efforts will be the driving force to see this study succeed.”
Shin learned about the benefits of the compound, BT2, through his research into the brain and neurodegenerative disorders during the past 10 years. This led to the discovery of a strong association between diabetes and AD: branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are essential nutrients found in meat, dairy and legumes that stimulate protein-building in muscle and may reduce muscle breakdown.
Shin worked with Vijay Hegde, also an assistant professor of nutritional sciences, to compare mice and human AD patients to healthy counterparts, and they found the AD patients had higher blood levels of BCAAs. This connection led Shin to question whether, instead of an association, there was a causal relationship between higher BCAA levels and AD progression.
“So we tried different interventions to lower BCAAs in the circulation of AD mouse models,” he said, “and turns out, that does have a significant and strong impact in alleviating Alzheimer's Disease progression.”
Instead of restricting BCAA dietary intake, which would include cutting most protein options, Shin found the BT2 compound could metabolize BCAAs quickly in the body without adverse side effects in mouse models.
Now he will try to determine an optimal dose of the BT2 compound to slow AD progression. That is the goal of his new Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG).
If Shin and his team get the results they hypothesize, they will have the opportunity to commercialize the compound. They have already filed a patent in the U.S. for this BT2 treatment method for AD and related neurological disorders, but they are still trying to determine the best way of administering it: orally or as a patch.
“But clearly, this would not be the end of the road,” Shin said. “If we get the expected results from this study, then I think we would move toward translational research, meaning we would refine this drug to be tested in humans.
“So, this will be going into clinical trials hopefully in the near future. And if it turns out to also be beneficial for human patients with Alzheimer's Disease, then with superb findings in the clinical trials, we should be able to file for FDA approval.”
Shin understands this drug treatment would be one that millions of people across the world have been awaiting for many, many years. He has high hopes this study will have a widespread impact.
“There's still a long way to go,” he said, “but I think this is a really important step toward treating Alzheimer's Disease.”