Herbal cure for Alzheimer's
A plant used by North American Indians for more than 400 years to treat a range of ailments could provide a breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, with the help of University of Adelaide graduate Dr Steffen Creaser.
Dr Creaser, a chemist now living in Boston, is working on producing a preclinical drug based on extracts of the flowering plant, black cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa).
This herbaceous perennial plant has been used safely by groups of American Indians in eastern North America for hundreds of years to treat gynaecological and kidney disorders, malaria, and rheumatism. It is also used today as a herbal treatment for menopausal women.
Dr Creaser is Senior Scientist at Satori Pharmaceuticals, a start-up company that believes the plant could provide an important lead to target the root cause of Alzheimer's disease, which is the world's most common neurodegenerative disorder, affecting about 26 million people.
"With an ageing population, this figure is set to quadruple over the next 50 years," he said.
"Current therapies for this disease only treat symptoms without targeting the causes and consequently provide temporary benefit at best."
Satori Pharmaceuticals has shown that a specific molecule within the plant extract is able to reduce beta-amyloid formation in brain cells, thought to be one of the underlying causes of Alzheimer's disease.
The former Adelaide resident completed his Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide in 1994 and was awarded First Class Honours in chemistry the following year. He went on to pursue his PhD under the supervision of Dr Simon Pyke and Professor Stephen Lincoln.
Dr Creaser moved to the United States in 2000 to begin his postdoctoral research in bio-organic chemistry at Pennsylvania State University, where he was awarded a research fellowship from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the world's largest non-profit research foundation dedicated to curing early stage breast cancer.
His research to target tamoxifen-resistant breast cancers led to the development of new anti-tumour compounds.
In 2003 Dr Creaser was recruited by Massachusetts company, Praecis Pharmaceuticals, to help invent DNA-encoded libraries for drug screening. The program was so successful it led to the acquisition of Praecis by GlaxoSmithKline earlier this year for US$59 million.
His latest venture sees him playing a crucial role in Satori's drug discovery program. As the only chemist in the company he has already synthesised a new derivative that is three times more potent than the original plant product.
"It's very exciting being part of this leading-edge research because the goal we are striving for has unlimited potential. We hope that this could lead to a significant improvement in the health of the world's ageing population."
The Danish-born chemist comes from a family of PhD scientists, so it was only natural he followed the same path. His father is a physicist and his mother an inorganic chemist, both of whom did their postdoctoral research in the United States. Dr Creaser's sister obtained her PhD in plant pathology at Cambridge University.
His former University of Adelaide supervisor, Professor Stephen Lincoln, remembers Dr Creaser as "a highly intelligent student with a meticulous approach to his work."
"His PhD research resulted in several articles published in international journals and he was always interested in the potential which chemistry has for gaining new insights into diseases and their treatment. This has clearly carried through to his work in the United States," Professor Lincoln said.■
STORY CANDY GIBSON