A team of researchers from the University of Michigan have developed a novel drug designed to boost the brain’s ability to protect against the coronavirus.
The research, published online today in Science Translational Medicine, shows that the compound has the potential to help patients recover from brain damage that is associated with the virus.
Researchers say the drug has already shown promising results in animal models, and their next steps include testing on humans.
Dr. Andrew Miller, the study’s lead author and a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the University, says the drug was created in partnership with BioSensory, a startup that builds custom sensory systems for medical devices.
BioSENSory’s CEO, David Lutman, is also a member of the study.
“This is a really important study because we can now see the impact of a compound that is designed to specifically target the brain,” Miller says.
The researchers found that by increasing the number of neurons that connect to the brain, the drug boosts its ability to regulate neuronal activity.
“We have the opportunity to take a drug that targets brain activity and increase its effectiveness,” Lutmans said.
The drug works by blocking certain receptors on the surface of brain cells, such as those in the cerebellum, which are involved in learning and memory.
In the study, researchers used a molecule known as cAMP-activated protein kinase (CARK) to target these receptors.CARK is a key enzyme in the body that helps regulate how many neurons fire when a cell is stimulated.
By blocking this enzyme, the team was able to activate the brain cells’ ability to fire more than usual.
“The drug was able the more it was active on neurons that had been stimulated, the better it was at preventing neuronal damage,” Miller said.
When researchers put the drug into mice, the animals showed increased sensitivity to the virus and decreased their susceptibility to the coronovirus, which the researchers believe was due to a reduction in the number and concentration of the virus’s RNA in the brain.
“By targeting the brain-derived neurotrophic factor receptor (BDNF) that is involved in memory, we are able to improve the brain function of mice that have been infected with coronaviruses,” Miller added.
“For example, the mice that were given a drug of some sort that is a combination of these drugs, like [cAMP-ACTK], had a significantly higher level of neurotrophic factors.”
The researchers also found that the drug significantly reduced the frequency of infection and the severity of the coronavia infection in the brains of mice.
“It is the first time that a compound like this has been able to treat brain injury,” Miller explained.
“Our next step is to look at how we can get a drug to a specific brain region and activate it.”
“It’s like a sponge that you can squeeze out of and the brain can be protected against the virus,” Miller continued.
“That’s really exciting.”
Miller and colleagues are also planning to test the compound on humans, and hope to begin testing on people next month.