When Dr. Parminder Vig meets people living with neurodegenerative diseases such as cerebellar ataxias, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, he senses a call to action.
“When you meet patients with these conditions, you wonder why you can't do something about neurological diseases,” said Vig, a professor of neurology and biochemistry at UMMC.
Vig is certainly doing something: he studies the molecular cause of the disease spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) in order to develop therapies. Now, he has a patent that could help these patients.
The patent is for a technique to deliver bioactive peptides to the brain and spinal cord using an elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) and a cell-penetrating peptide. Vig's co-inventors are Dr. Drazen Raucher, professor of biochemistry and Dr. Scoty Hearst, a former graduate student.
Ataxia refers to uncoordinated movements like walking or balance problems caused by neurological changes. Vig says that a drunken stupor is a type of temporary ataxia. Neurological disorders also cause permanent ataxias such as SCA, a group of genetic conditions that affect cells in the spinal cord and the cerebellum, the brain region that controls body movements.
Vig, Raucher and Hearst used the disease SCA1 to develop the patent. In SCA1, a mutation causes the protein ataxin-1 to gather inside of cerebellar neurons called Purkinje cells. Ataxin-1 builds up to toxic levels and kills the cells. As the cells die, the patient loses motor control and the disease becomes fatal.