Alzheimer's-Causing Protein Could Be Nanomaterial of the Future

Up till now, the connection most people would make between nanomaterials and Alzheimer’s has always been as a potential treatment for the devastating disease. But now, instead of a nanomaterial treating the disease, researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are taking the protein that causes the disease and making it a nanomaterial.

The protein is known as amyloid, which is a very dense biomaterial that some researchers have been experimenting with for over a decade by combining it with other materials to alter its characteristics. What the Swedish researchers discovered is that if you expose the amyloid protein to multi-photon irradiation you could change the characteristics of the materials that have been attached to amyloid.

The research, which was published in the journal Nature Photonics (“Multiphoton absorption in amyloid protein fibres”),  could lead to optical techniques for detecting and studying amyloid structures with the aim of advancing the treatment of the brain diseases it causes.

Researchers at Chalmers and Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland revealed last month how laser techniques aimed at the amyloid protein could help find a cure for not only Alzheimer’s, but also other brain diseases caused by the amyloid, such as Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (known as Mad Cow disease).

“Nobody has talked about using only light to treat these diseases until now,” says Piotr Hanczyc at Chalmers in a press release. “This is a totally new approach and we believe that this might become a breakthrough in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. We have found a totally new way of discovering these structures using just laser light.”

But beyond a treatment for these brain diseases, the researchers believe that it could have even more far afield applications in photonics an optoelectronics. The researchers believe that the ability to change the characteristics of a material that have been merged with the amyloid just by using multi-photon irradiation opens up some sci-fi capabilities for the material.

One potential application is creating a metamaterial with the amyloid merged with another material. The metamaterial would alter how light is reflected off of it and make it invisible to us.

A less far-off photonic application for the material may be in the development of improved solar cells, according to Hanczyc. But even this seems a bit speculative since the multi-photon tests on the materials tied to amyloids haven’t even performed yet.

Photo: Mats Tiborn/Chalmers University of Technology

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