Professor Jonathan Wall Receives $1.58 Million Grant for Amyloid Disease Research

Dr. Jonathan Wall is exploring diagnostic and therapeutic agents for amyloid diseases. Dr. Wall has identified p5, a protein that binds to amyloid in the brain and other organs, making the amyloid visible through PET imaging and other techniques.

Dr. Jonathan Wall is exploring diagnostic and therapeutic agents for amyloid diseases. Dr. Wall has identified p5, a protein that binds to amyloid in the brain and other organs, making the amyloid visible through PET imaging and other techniques.

It is well known that patients with Alzheimer’s and other disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, develop amyloid, a substance composed of sticky protein fibers and sugar molecules that builds up in the brain or other organs in the body. Doctors do not know whether this material causes the diseases, or whether the diseases lead to amyloid formation. However, in less common diseases, such as light chain amyloidosis, a rare but devastating illness caused by the aggregation of antibody-related light chain proteins in organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and spleen, there is no doubt that amyloid presence in the organs is the cause of the disease.

There is an urgent need to image or “see” the sticky substance to accurately diagnose and determine the stage of the disease and monitor the therapies used to treat patients. However, in the United States there are no clinically available methods to image amyloid in patients, except in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Many patients travel to Europe for a scan, where the technology is available.

Work by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Jonathan Wall, PhD, and his team, is making it possible to see amyloid deposits, not just in the brain, but other organs of the body.

Dr. Wall, professor in the Graduate School of Medicine and director of the Preclinical and Diagnostic Molecular Imaging Laboratory in Knoxville, received a four-year grant totaling $1,580,808 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health to study “Preclinical Diagnostic Imaging of Amyloid.”

With the help of his team, including Steven Kennel, PhD; Alan Stuckey, BA, CNMT; Tina Richey, MS; Sallie Macy, BA; Craig Wooliver, MLT; Emily Martin, BS; and Angela Williams, MS, Dr. Wall has developed a series of new imaging agents aimed at advancing the diagnosis and treatment of patients with amyloid-related diseases.

Dr. Wall’s new imaging agent is a peptide, a protein he’s named p5. In preclinical testing, radioactive p5 has been shown to bind to amyloid in the brain and other organs, making the amyloid visible through positron emission tomography (PET) imaging and other techniques. It is expected that with appropriate modifications, p5 may eventually be used in the clinical setting to image amyloid throughout the body.

“In the U.S., our ability to detect amyloid deposits is limited,” Dr. Wall said. “We’ve made amazing progress, but we need to move faster. The peptide p5 is the next generation of amyloid-imaging agents, and it holds much promise for helping people with amyloid-related diseases.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.