In 2021, Jessica Fortin, DVM, PhD, earned a PhRMA Foundation Starter Grant in Drug Discovery to research small molecules that could inhibit one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, the buildup of tangles of twisted proteins called tau. We asked Dr. Fortin, an assistant professor of basic medical sciences, physiology, and pharmacology at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, to tell us more about her work and what she hopes to accomplish in Alzheimer’s disease research.
Q: Briefly describe your research related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Fortin: We investigate small molecules with the potential to stop the buildup of tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Our team is comprised of multidisciplinary members, which allows us to integrate biological data in a timely manner. I believe our strategy provides a high degree of flexibility and creativity, which will pay off when advancing to rodent models.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with your research? Why is it important?
Dr. Fortin: My team contributes to the effort of preparing and developing new compounds to reduce the buildup of tangles. We have investigated new molecular entities capable of preventing the accumulation of tangles and/or disaggregating existing tangles. As the aging population grows, our work is important to publish, adding to the ever-evolving field of Alzheimer’s disease therapies. Eventually, we hope to use an animal model to test one or more of our anti-aggregate small molecules, which is one step closer to developing clinical trials for a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What interested you in doing this research?
Dr. Fortin: I am interested in designing and preparing compounds to inhibit the formation of these tangles. During the process of designing and testing compounds, we learn a lot about the biological effects and/or mechanism(s) of action of these molecules. Furthermore, many of the members of our team have personally known someone with Alzheimer’s disease, making the cause personal to us.
Q: What has surprised you the most in your research so far?
Dr. Fortin: In our lab, there are a few small molecules proven capable of completely halting the process of aggregation of tau (involved in tangle formation) in test tubes. These results are always a welcome surprise.
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities you see for Alzheimer’s disease-related research?
Dr. Fortin: One of the most pressing challenges in Alzheimer’s disease-related research is the race against time to develop new therapeutics as the population afflicted with the condition continues to rise. Another challenge of Alzheimer’s research is that of having a refined, robust model to replicate the disease. Such a challenge will become an opportunity once overcome, as an Alzheimer’s model would assist in the validation of biological effect(s) of new molecules. Other opportunities in research involve providing new molecular entities to the scientific community, which can be used as tool to learn more about the mechanism(s) underlying Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What keeps you motivated and why are you hopeful for the future of Alzheimer’s disease research?
Dr. Fortin: I am motivated to find a molecule to reduce the buildup tangles. This strategy is still a valid therapeutic strategy, among others, for tackling Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a complex, multifactorial disease, and we need to explore all strategies to provide new therapeutics exhibiting different mechanisms of action. The endless possibilities for a potential cure is what keeps me motivated, and I will not stop until such is discovered.