'Supercomputer' holds key to Alzheimer's?

March 22, 2007 at 12:35 PM

SAN DIEGO, March 22 (UPI) -- A "supercomputer" is being harnessed by U.S. scientists to help pinpoint the causes of neurological disease like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The massive machine has already been used by scientists at the University of California at San Diego to map out a model of how a protein called alpha-synuclein damages cells by creating structures on human membranes that resemble rings or pores.

This is the same type of damage found in the brain cells of patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, the researchers said.

"This is one of the first studies to use supercomputers to model how alpha-synuclein complexes damage the cells, and how that could be blocked," said Eliezer Masliah, professor of neurosciences and pathology at U.C. San Diego. "We believe that these ring- or pore-like structures might be deleterious to the cells, and we have a unique opportunity to better understand how alpha-synuclein is involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease, and how to reverse this process."

The supercomputer's modeling approach might also unlock keys to other diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers noted.

The study is published in this week's Federation of European Biochemical Societies Journal.

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