To gain scientific mindshare for its proteomics technologies, PerkinElmer Life and Analytical Sciences has embarked on a collaborative genomic and proteomic Alzheimer’s study of brains donated by monks, priests and nuns.
The pilot study, jointly conducted with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Buck Institute, has been going on for several months.
Researchers have been comparing the expression of genes and proteins in the brains of 15 Alzheimer’s patients and 15 normal individuals. While the Buck Institute, based in Novato, Calif., has been studying the expression of 15,000 genes in these samples using microarrays, researchers at PerkinElmer’s R&D facility in Boston have been looking at protein expression patterns.
The brain samples were provided by the Rush Center, which is based in Chicago, as part of its Religious Orders Study, in which more than 900 older priests, nuns, and monks in 40 states have participated since 1993. What is unique about these samples, according to Mary Lopez, director of biochemistry at PerkinElmer Life and Analytical Sciences and head of PE’s part of the project, is how well characterized they are. Donors underwent annual cognitive, psychological, and physical evaluations, and their brains were collected within a few hours of their death. “It’s an unusual opportunity to see something that’s so well documented,” she said.
As requested by the donors, no genes and proteins found in the study will be patented.
At PerkinElmer’s site, which is in the process of being remodeled into a “center of excellence for proteomics and genomics” within the company, scientists have been using PE’s proteomics technology to analyze up to 2,000 spots on duplicate 2D gels and to identify differentially expressed proteins by MALDI mass spectrometry.
The aim is to find a set of differentially expressed proteins and correlate them with the gene expression data from the Buck Institute. So far, the researchers have had statistically significant results for about 20 proteins and are hoping to publish their results later this year, Lopez said. Depending on the results, she added, the collaboration with the Buck Institute could be either extended or expanded to other types of diseases.
While this is one of the first larger proteomics collaborations PerkinElmer has initiated with academic researchers, several others might follow.
Besides furthering science and giving academic researchers access to its technology, projects like this serve PerkinElmer a two-fold purpose: to showcase its technology and demonstrate how it can tie in with other approaches, and to develop new products. “We are trying to use these collaborations to demonstrate the power of the technology that we produce,” said Lopez.
In terms of product development, the company has been testing and validating new methods for fractionating proteins on a microscale using spin columns — important for studies like this one where only limited amounts of samples are available. PerkinElmer is hoping to commercialize fractionation kits based on these methods within a year or sooner, Lopez said.