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Lecture on Nano-neurotherapeutics

- By Wits University

Wits researchers have designed a nanoscience-based therapeutic approach called Nano-neurotherapeutics for the treatment of common neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers and Motor Neuron Disease. 

Pharmaceutical scientist, Professor Viness Pillay, from the School of Therapeutic Sciences and neurologist, Professor Girish Modi, from the School of Clinical Medicine will elaborate on their interdisciplinary research in a lecture titled, “Nano-Neuro-Therapeutics: Unravelling Neurodegeneration”.

During the 12th Prestigious Research Lecture of the Faculty of Health Sciences, the duo will discuss their designs, methods and preclinical Nano-neurotherapeutics tests on 10 June 2015 from 17h30 at the School of Public Health Auditorium, Faculty of Health Sciences in Parktown.

According to the researchers, these neurodegenerative illnesses and others including Huntington’s and Spino-cerebellar ataxias (SCA) are characterised by neuronal cell death with progressive loss of cortical structure and function.

They said that there is no known or identified cause, but studies have shown that genetics, environmental toxins and age can contribute to the onset to these illnesses.

“The current range of neurotherapeutic approaches have been below expectation and while in some instances they have helped to slow down the disease process, they do not address the cause,” the duo explained.

The researchers said that the primary cause of the “failed expectancy” of current treatment regimens is their very poor ability to cross the highly restrictive blood-brain barrier (BBB) in order to reach affected sites in the brain.

They said that delivery to the targeted sites has also not been specific enough and patients on current forms of neurotherapy often experience severe side effects. Many patients are burdened with having to take an enormous amount of pills, sometimes for life.

“In determining any strategy for dealing with neurodegenerative illnesses one needs a full understanding of the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and the clinical effects these result in,” said Modi.

“The clinical aspects involve understanding the disease profile in terms of which specific parts of the brain are affected and how this impacts on the symptoms. In the SCA disorders, the cerebellum is the chief site of damage. In Parkinson’s disease it is the basal ganglia. In Alzheimer’s disease it is the temporal cortex and in ALS it is the Betz cells.

“With Nano-neurotherapeutics we need to achieve delivery of drugs to these specific sites and design nano-molecules to achieve this. This is where the expertise of Professor Pillay comes in.”

“Nanomedicine and nanoscience encompasses the engineering of functional materials and devices on the nanometer scale -1-100nm - at the atomic, molecular or supramolecular scale,” said Pillay.

Their approach includes the design of bio-robotic nanoconstructs or nanodevices that are able to successfully cross the BBB and provide targeted and controlled release of neuroactive drugs within the brain.

“These devices can be injected, administered orally or may be strategically placed using stereotactic techniques in specific areas of the brain to deliver a neuroactive drug over a prolonged period of time,” said Pillay.

“The key issues in ensuring more specific as opposed to ‘non-specific’ drug therapy in treating these disorders is to deliver neuroactives directly to target sites within the brain, avoid degradation of neuroactive drugs by proteins and the systemic circulation, and, crucially, as mentioned, facilitate the delivery of neuroactive drugs across the restrictive BBB.

“If we look at Parkinson’s disease for example, which is one of the most common and severely debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, it is characterised by a progressive loss of dopamine neurons in the brain and results in the inability to store and regulate the release of dopamine. With current drug therapy only a small percentage of drugs reach the brain due to hepatic degradation and the restrictive blood-brain barrier,” said Pillay.

Pillay and Modi’s developments in Nano-neurotherapeutics increases the possibility of implanting neuro-gadgets into the brain that have the potential to render the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative disorders a thing of the past.

You are invited to the  lecture

Date: 10 June 2015

Time: 17h30 

Venue: School of Public Health Auditorium, Faculty of Health Sciences in Parktown

For all media queries, contact Michelle Walbank on 011 646 9322 or