SENS6 Favorites: How O’Nuallain lab may change approaches to amyloid-associated diseases

Posted by Iain Inkster on February 17, 2014 | SENS6

John Moon was a 2013 SRF Summer Intern in Graca Almeida-Porada’s lab at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Click here to read more about John.

The SENS6 conference was an amazing opportunity to engage in ongoing research in the field of biogerontology and regenerative medicine. I was really excited to attend a conference on such a scale and share the results of my 2013 summer research  with Dr. Graca Almeida-Porada at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine  with scientists from all over the world at the venerable University of Cambridge.

The people I had the opportunity to meet and talk with were equally inspiring, and the lectures were engaging, memorable, and well-structured. Although the greater portion of the day was dedicated to exciting technical research in age-related therapeutics and potential interventions, there was enough time allotted for presentations and discussions of the social, political, and economic implications of this work and the benefits to lifespan arising from these interventions.

The conference was a mixture of scientists, technologists and lay enthusiasts. In my view, the diversity of people and varying interests spoke a great deal of the conference itself and of SRF’s success in mobilizing people from multiple backgrounds and professions. This, I believe is essential for generating new ideas for combating age-related diseases and re-imagining aging.

In particular, I found the work of Dr. Brian O’Nuallain of Harvard University fascinating. His lab is examining the therapeutic and diagnostic potential of antibodies that target the binding sites on the assemblies of aggregated polypeptides that cause several age-related diseases. The aggregation of amyloid polypeptides in tissues is often associated with increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.

Dr. O’Nuallain described his lab’s progress in identifying antibodies which target toxic amyloid assemblies of transthyretin (TTR) and catalyze their breakdown. TTR is a blood transport protein whose amyloid assemblies cause senile systemic amyloidosis (SSA), a disease that affects approximately 20% of people over the age of 80. By vaccinating mice with non-native TTR, the lab was able to generate eight new murine TTR-reactive monoclonal immunoglobulin G antibodies that have potential as diagnostic markers for SSA. Importantly, these markers can identify patient-derived TTR amyloid, but not the native, physiologically relevant TTR normally found in human plasma. I think Dr. O’Nuallain’s work shows great promise both as a diagnostic tool to identify non-native TTR assemblies and as a therapeutic to remove them.

The conference went by all too quickly, and I left with a greater fascination with and deeper appreciation for ongoing SRF research. The field of rejuvenation biotechnologies shows a great deal of promise, and I am excited to see the progress that will be made by the SENS7 Conference in 2015.

Click here to watch Brian O’Nuallain’s SENS6 presentation