AMHERST, Mass. – Jeanne Hardy, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will spend next spring and summer in Paris studying the shape and structure of a protein that is the focus of increasingly intense interest as a target in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Hardy has received a Fulbright Scholar award from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars to pursue the research.
Working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Hardy will use nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or NMR, to study the shape of the caspase-6 protein, which is thought to be a highly promising target for new drugs in Alzheimer’s disease therapy.
In order to target caspase-6, says Hardy, it is necessary to make sure that other similar proteins are not being affected. Her lab has discovered that, unlike other caspases, caspase-6 can fold part of itself into a helix. That helix (a piece of a protein shaped like a telephone cord) makes it much more possible to target specifically.
Hardy notes that, by 2050, Alzheimer’s disease promises to become the single largest medical expense for the U.S., at an estimated cost of $1.1 trillion.
“This situation will only worsen with the graying of society in the developed world,” she said. “The goal of this project is to determine the structure of caspase-6 by NMR. Achieving this goal will allow us to make better caspase-6-directed Alzheimer’s therapies that target the helical conformation.”
Hardy has described caspases as “molecular scissors that cut certain key proteins in the cell, leading to apoptosis or cell suicide.”
In April, Hardy won the seventh annual Armstrong Fund for Science Award, which this year is granting $30,000 over two years to encourage transformative research that introduces new ways of thinking about pressing scientific or technical challenges.
Hardy will be accompanied to Paris by her husband, UMass Amherst associate professor of Asian languages and literatures Bruce Baird, and their two young sons. Baird will study the impact of the Japanese art form butô on the French and international art scenes.