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YSU helps untangle the Alzheimer’s puzzle

Laser tech eliminates ‘bad proteins’ that lead to neurofibrillary tangles

YOUNGSTOWN — An intensely bright burst of pulsating green laser light also has given the green light to eradicating the main building block of what’s thought to be a prelude to developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is a way we target only those proteins, not the ones you need,” Gregg Sturrus, chairman of Youngstown State University’s Physics, Astronomy, Geography and Earth Sciences department, explained.

Sturrus is referring to using complex laser technology to eliminate what he called “bad proteins” that lead to neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Abnormal accumulation of a protein sometimes forms certain threads that create such tangles.

These tangles can be harmful to communication abilities between neurons.

But in using the laser technology, “the good proteins are unaffected,” Sturrus explained. Only the bad ones are eradicated.

Spearheading the research with test fluids in laboratory testing is Halberd Corp., a Jackson Center, Pa.-based biomedical company. Halberd Corp. is working with YSU.

Sturrus also is on Halberd’s science advisory board.

Last week, Sturrus conducted a demonstration in which an infrared and green light was filtered through a hole in the back of a sophisticated laser device before it struck and reflected off a firebrick. The light then hit a test tube containing a small quantity of a buffer solution.

For the replication trials YSU is conducting, Sturrus normally has in place of the brick a fish tank a little more than half filled with water. The tank of water filters out the laser’s infrared light before coming in contact with the test tube.

The fluid in the test tube is treated with a specific antibody conjoined (connected) with similarly sized metallic particles, some of which are as small as 20 or 40 nanometers (one-billionth of a meter), Sturrus noted.

Such antibodies are able to attach to what are called phosphorylated tau antigens, then the subsequent nanoparticles are subjected to the proper laser frequency, he explained.

The antigen is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

As a result, the light’s heat destroys the target antigen, or protein, and eliminates the disease’s pathogen.

“I really think the laser will go through these (antigens) and tick them off,” Sturrus said.

Nevertheless, what creates the antigens remains a mystery, he cautioned.

Sturrus noted that he and some of his students have conducted one,- three- and 10-minute functional trials. The three-minute trials killed about 35 percent of the antigens; the longer ones resulted in a “total kill,” he said.

“We got sort of a time scale,” Sturrus added.

The university also has sent samples to Qiang “Shawn” Chen, an Arizona State University molecular biologist who specializes in developing vaccines in plants to combat infectious diseases and certain types of cancer. Chen can learn a lot from the samples regarding the antigen content, Sturrus said.

William A. Hartman, Halberd’s president, chairman and chief executive officer, noted that the antigens and the metallic nanoparticles have to be conjoined for the laser technology to work.

Hartman, 80, who graduated from YSU (then Youngstown College) in 1964 with a degree in mechanical engineering, expressed confidence that the remaining antigens linked to Alzheimer’s can be eliminated in lab tests.

In addition, the technology also may be able to tackle two inflammatory cytokines linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and a similar condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, he explained. Cytokines are tiny proteins that cells release and have a specific effect on communications and interactions between cells.

“We’ll be working on those within the next few weeks,” Hartman said.

Hartman, whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, recalled being brought on board to work with Sturrus after having seen the work he performed in his lab.

“We gave him a chance and he fulfilled all of our desires,” he said.

Hartman added that he also intends to have discussions about the findings with the NFL and the military — especially with the high number of suicides among soldiers who suffer from PTSD.

But he noted the technology is in the beginning stages, much like the Wright Brothers’ 1903 powered flights near Kitty Hawk, N.C., were comparable to today’s commercial aviation.

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