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Teenager Contributes to Alzheimer’s Research
April 30, 2014   
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A high school student from the eastern Polish city of Lublin has discovered a substance that may help combat Alzheimer’s disease. Łukasz Wysocki’s remarkable breakthrough came during a research internship at the Mossakowski Medical Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia, is classified as a neurodegenerative disorder. Around 350,000 people in Poland and anywhere from 15 million to 21 million globally are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is characterized by continuous deterioration of mental abilities eventually leading to complete intellectual disability. People with Alzheimer’s have problems remembering, understanding and drawing conclusions. As the disease advances, progressive brain damage causes physical disorders such as problems with movement coordination, writing and walking as well as speech disorders such as a shrinking vocabulary.

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by two kinds of proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, that are deposited in the brain. These deposits cause malfunctions in nerve cells, which leads to the degeneration and death of these cells. The clinical symptoms depend on the stage of the disease.

These deposits were examined by Łukasz Wysocki, a high school student from Lublin in eastern Poland, who had set out to come up with a substance to dissolve them without harming the patient’s internal organs such as the liver. A drug based on such a substance could be produced on a mass scale if a fast and cheap production method could be developed.

Wysocki has always been fascinated by chemistry. During high school, his main focus was mathematics, physics and information technology, but he also entered a national chemistry contest in his first year. At the same time he signed up for the E(x)plory International Science Fair, where he had the opportunity to present his work in robotics and computer science in front of academics and scholars. He made it to the finals of the E(x)plory contest and won a special prize—a trip to the United States, where young scientists from 70 countries showcased their work. Despite this success, he decided not to concentrate on robotics, but to become involved in something that could help people in a more direct way. That was when he learned about Alzheimer’s disease.

While looking for a research institution where he could start working on a cure for this disease, he met Prof. Andrzej Lipkowski, head of the Department of Neuropeptides at the Mossakowski Medical Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Lipkowski offered Wysocki a research internship, during which the young man learned how to prepare specimens, analyze data and at the same time worked on his own idea. Wysocki’s main aim was to discover a substance that would destroy protein deposits causing Alzheimer’s. He came across a publication describing a substance that dissolves beta-amyloid deposits. While numerous compounds with such an effect had been discovered earlier, all of them had many side-effects. The substance which Wysocki discovered destroys the protein deposits in the brain, but has no undesirable effects on the liver. The substance is produced from readily available plants with simple means.

Wysocki’s invention is not yet ready to be put on the market. First it must undergo a battery of tests, including cell tests and animal tests, before it is subjected to clinical trials.

Neurology experts are cautious in evaluating the substance discovered by Wysocki. But he is not losing heart. He is aware that the tests may take five to 10 years and that his discovery is not yet ready to enter the market. For now Wysocki is studying for his high school finals and plans to study medicine at university. Although he could probably choose any university in the world, he wants to stay and conduct research in Poland.

Agnieszka Dokowicz
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