Fox Foundation Grant to Find Protein Biomarkers for Early Diagnosis

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by Mary Chapman |

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Schizophrenia and Parkinson's

Erisyon, a biotechnology company specializing in the study of proteins, was awarded a grant by The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) to find and validate potential markers of Parkinson’s disease in its early stages.

The grant, reported to be worth $189,000, will go toward deploying single-molecule protein sequencing to detect and validate protein biomarkers that might inform an early diagnosis. The earlier a person is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.

“Our single-molecule assay will help untangle the mysteries of using alpha-synuclein as a potential biomarker,” Talli Somekh, the company’s CEO, said in a press release. “This technology can help to identify the smaller aggregate proteins that cause Parkinson’s before they form large, insoluble particles in the brain.

“With the support of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, our study aims to quantify very accurately the biomarker for Parkinson’s at a much earlier stage of the disease,” Somekh added.

A Parkinson’s hallmark is the misfolding of the alpha-synuclein protein, which promotes its aggregation into clumps that are deadly to dopamine-producing nerve cells. These cells are responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is critical for regulating brain cell activity and function.

Focused on personalized medicine and treatment discoveries through a better understanding of proteins, Erisyon aims to commercialize the first single-molecule protein sequencer to upend how disease is detected, treated, and monitored.

A 2018 study into the company’s proprietary new way of sequencing proteins showed the method was more sensitive than existing technology, identifying individual protein molecules instead of requiring millions of molecules at a time. The hope is that this technology — developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin — will make it easier to uncover diagnostic biomarkers for Parkinson’s and other diseases, and broaden understanding of how cells function.

Next-generation technology has made sequencing the entire genome of any living organism swift, affordable, and accurate, accelerating biological research. The new technology offers quick and comprehensive information about millions of proteins that play a role in disease and in the normal functioning of cells.

In many disorders, including Parkinson’s, cells produce proteins and other substances that act as unique biomarkers. Better detection of these biomarkers would help scientists understand what causes disorders such as Parkinson’s, allowing more accurate, earlier diagnoses. Molecular biomarkers are gauges that provide insights into a patients’ health, and are key indicators of disease progression and companion diagnostics.

The scientific standard for sequencing proteins is a tool called mass spectrometry, which can detect a protein if there are about a million copies of it. As such, it can be insufficiently sensitive for many applications. Mass spectrometry also it has what is called a low throughput, meaning it can detect only a few thousand distinct protein types in a single sample.

Erisyon reports that its technology, with its single-molecule sensitivity, can isolate and measure blood serum-based biomarkers whose concentrations are below the sensitivity of existing techniques. It also has a high-throughput, being able to measure at least one billion individual proteins in a single sample.

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