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Age-related illnesses in the spotlight

Scientists hope to gain insight into age-related ailments such as dementia by studying proteins linked to the conditions.

The University study aims to look at why vital proteins sometimes clump together as we age, preventing biological processes from running smoothly.

This clumping, or aggregation as it is known, occurs in many proteins. It is characteristic of several conditions related to ageing, such as late-onset diabetes, sight loss, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Changing shapes

The study, involving physicists and chemists at the University, will look at the shape changes that can occur in proteins and how these changes aid the aggregation process.

Understanding how the proteins bind to one another will help in the development of drugs to prevent aggregation occurring.

Three-year study

Researchers will focus on the protein insulin for the study, however their results could apply to all proteins in the body, as most can adopt a shape prone to aggregation.

The three-year project has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance.

We know that proteins often bunch together, causing processes in the body to break down. Because this problem is common to lots of diseases, we hope that if we can understand how it occurs, it will offer insights into a range of conditions that affect people as they get older.

Dr Cait MacPheeSchool of Physics and Astronomy