‘Game-changing’ Alzheimer’s research by Northeastern professor is major beneficiary of $50 million grant by Cynthia McCormick Hibbert August 7, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Nikolai Slavov conducts research in the Mugar Life Sciences Building. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University A new research institute launched by a Northeastern professor researching Alzheimer’s disease is the principal beneficiary of a $50 million grant from two investors, Schmidt Futures and Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, that aims to support big breakthroughs in science. “We think it’s going to be a game changer,” says Nikolai Slavov, Northeastern associate professor of bioengineering and founder and director of Parallel Squared Technology Institute (PTI) headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts. Scientists at PTI intend to use new techniques to significantly ramp up single-cell protein analysis of Alzheimer’s disease, which researchers suspect is caused by a buildup of abnormal proteins in and around brain cells. “Professor Nikolai Slavov’s contributions to the field of Alzheimer’s research will break new ground in advancing our understanding and treatment of a disease that impacts millions of people around the world,” says Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. The work the institute is undertaking is built on technology Slavov developed at Northeastern. This technology platform will increase the scale of protein analysis by as much as a thousand-fold, which will significantly decrease the cost of Alzheimer’s research, Slavov says. “It’s going to make this kind of analysis much more accessible, much more powerful,” he says, calling it a “Manhattan Project” for the poorly understood brain disorder that afflicts more than 55 million worldwide. Often protein pathologies and disorders are studied by sequencing RNA, because that is the tool most readily available, Slavov says. “It’s a bit like looking for keys under the lamp post, because that is where the light is, rather than where we are going to find things,” he says. “We are trying to make a very powerful lamp post that can shine a light where people have not yet explored, where we think there is a lot to discover.” Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Wendy Schmidt, while Griffin is founder and CEO of the multinational hedge fund Citadel. Together, they announced this week a $50 million commitment to Convergent Research, which will distribute the funds to PTI and to EvE Bio. A press release from Schmidt Futures calls PTI and EvE Bio the type of focused research organizations (FROs) that accelerate major breakthroughs to meet challenges associated with human health and climate change. We are trying to make a very powerful lamp post that can shine a light where people have not yet explored, where we think there is a lot to discover. Nikolai Slavov, Northeastern associate professor of bioengineering and founder and director of Parallel Squared Technology Institute “We all aspire to live longer, healthier lives,” Griffin told Forbes. “And it is my hope that accelerating the scientific progress of these organizations will lead to more scalable and viable treatments for chronic diseases.” PTI, which Slavov co-founded with Northeastern post-doctoral students Aleksandra Petelski and Harrison Specht, expects to grow to 40 to 50 scientists within the first five years with a state-of-the-art research lab. While PTI will operate as an independent not-for-profit research organization, it will be led by Slavov who plans to develop experiential learning programs with the university, including co-op positions for Northeastern students. Slavov credits the Allen Frontiers Group for supporting his use of mass spectrometry to scale up single-cell protein analysis. Proteins are the workhorses of the cell, serving as “catalysts for virtually every biochemical reaction that occurs in living things,” according to the journal Nature. Ramping up the pace of proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, is expected to yield solutions to problems of drug resistance, help pinpoint biomechanisms associated with the genetic propensity for diseases and enhance immune cells to target diseased cells. “We will be in a position to understand mechanisms for disease much more accurately and discover new and fundamental biological principles of how a cell functions,” according to Slavov, who with Bogdan Budnik won the 2022 Human Proteome Organization’s award for discovery in proteomic sciences. Researchers at PTI expect to soon receive cadaver tissue samples from Massachusetts General Hospital to analyze for Alzheimer’s disease, Slavov says. He says he expects the scale of protein analysis to be increased tenfold in the next two years and up to a thousand-fold in five years. “Instead of costing millions of dollars to a project, it will cost thousands,” Slavov says. Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia.