Alain Simard is a professor of biochemistry at the Université de Moncton who is searching for ways to arrest or cure neurological diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or Alzheimer’s disease using nicotine. He is now testing to see which receptors react best to nicotine, and to see if the substance can be administered without adverse side effects, such as addiction or depression. This doesn't mean that people who suffer from such diseases should start or continue to consume tobacco or nicotine replacement products. It just doesn't work that way.
There are 16 different types of nicotine receptors found all over the body, including in the addiction center of the brain. Nicotine found in consumer products such as tobacco, gums, lozenges and patches flood the blood stream affecting all nicotine receptors. However, Dr Simard's laboratory and animal research shows that when nicotine is attached to certain, but not all receptors, it can slow down and possibly stop the progression of MS. In order to administer nicotine in a way that treats disease, Dr Simard and his team are working to determine exactly which nicotine receptors need to be targeted, and develop a method for delivering nicotine to that receptor only.
NBIF supported Dr Simard's recruitment to New Brunswick with a $35,000 start-up grant for his laboratory, and $234,000 toward the further development of his targeted nicotine therapy. Dr Simard also received support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and industry for a project total nearing $1 million.
NBIF: Where do you think your work will lead?
Dr Simard: There are many different nicotine receptors and we’re trying to establish which one is responsible for curing the disease. We will work with this receptor or see if we can develop new drugs that would be more specific than nicotine. If so, it could lead to a drug that could treat Multiple Sclerosis and possibly other diseases, without the many side-effects of nicotine.
NBIF: What do you think the legacy of this work will be?
Dr Simard: It could be to lay the groundwork to develop new drugs to treat neurodegenerative diseases. With anything that’s inflammatory in the nervous system, there are no good drugs to treat these diseases, especially when they affect the brain. If we could come up with drugs that did that then I’d like that to be my legacy.
NBIF: How did you come up with this idea?
Dr Simard: It all started during my post-doctoral studies in the U.S. where we started looking at cholinergic receptors and how they could cause innovation. It was based on previous work and we took it up to the next step. We looked at it and decided there is something going on here.