A Savannah State University professor is poised to potentially help millions with her recently discovered chemical compound that could help combat the effects of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s or ALS.
Associate professor of chemistry and forensic science Karla-Sue Marriott recently was approved for a patent on benzofuran, the result of work funded through a grant from the National Institute of Health. She joined the SSU team in 2006, before that she worked as postdoctoral fellow at Clemson University for four years, She also serves as the program coordinator for SSU’s forensic science program.
Her latest research began in 2010 after Marriott submitted a proposal to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, which is part of the NIH with a goal to synthesizing medicinal compounds to treat symptoms related to the rehabilitation process of people who suffer from schizophrenia or psychosis.
Marriott was awarded about $234,000 from NIH and her initial goal was to target dopamine receptors, which play an important role in processes including movement control, cognition and emotion.
“When the proposal got funded I delved into the research of course,” she said. After about two years she completed her initial research of synthesizing and characterizing novel molecules and then sent her findings to the NIH’s Psychoactive Drug Screening Program with hopes that the compound would target the dopamine receptors.
“I sent them off for screening for various receptors in the body that are related to the central nervous system, including dopamine receptors, and there are tons of them…,” she said.
After the screening was complete, the tests revealed that the molecules didn’t target dopamine receptors after all, but instead targeted sigma receptors.
Activating or targeting sigma receptors has the potential to reduce the impacts of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
“They were very specific for the sigma receptors… They didn’t target any of the other central nervous system receptors, they were very selective,” she said of the results.
From there Marriott began working again to discover what the benefits of her compound might be. Without the screening program, her research could have stopped after discovering the compound didn’t target the dopamine receptors.
“I realized that sigma receptors are really, really important receptors in the body,” she said.
Marriott said the sigma 1 receptor is more focused toward neurological system while sigma 2 receptors are more focused toward cancer.
“These molecules could have cancer potential as well as central nervous system potential,” she said.
“… We did some preliminary studies and found out that there is some benefit to sigma receptors and cholesterol homeostasis, but we don’t know exactly how sigma receptors are playing a part in neurological disorders of the CNS, but it definitely has some implications in neuro protection.
Marriott said that there hasn’t been a lot of sigma receptor-related research conducted, largely because sigma receptors do so much in the body, so that was one of the reasons for protecting the molecules with a patent.
“Savannah State was nice enough to invest in the potential of these molecules and it was successful,” she said of the patent process which began in 2014 and will protect the compound for 20 years.
“Obviously more research needs to be done and I’m seeking collaborators on a biological side to see what all we can learn about the implications for the molecules and just get more information about the usefulness of them, but there’s great potential, no doubt about it.”
Going forward, Marriott will be conducting toxicology studies and additional investigations on how the compound effects the brain.
“We want to get a little more focused in addition to what we have,” she said.
While there is more research to be conducted, Marriott just hopes that the compound will be able to provide a medical or pharmaceutical purpose and help whether it before the nervous system or cholesterol.
“I want to know that it’s going to have some sort of medicinal benefit and that’s my whole purpose, that’s what stimulates me,” she said. “If it goes toward even helping us understand the pathways for central nervous system disorders then that’s wonderful, too… Anything that keeps the ball rolling, that’s the whole point.”
For more information on Karla-Sue Marriott’s research, email firstname.lastname@example.org.