In January, Hajira Fuad ’17 was named a Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 Scholar for her project titled “Computational Discovery of Pharmacological Chaperones to Rectify Protein Misfolding Using a Novel Support Vector Machine Classifier.” Only 300 entrants were selected from more than 1,700 nationwide, with Fuad being the only one from Wisconsin.
For her project, Fuad programmed an algorithm to search a database of FDA-approved drugs that contain pharmacological chaperones that are structurally similar to curcumin, the active ingredient of the turmeric spice. Curcumin acts as a pharmacological chaperone by binding to the protein involved in Alzheimer’s and helping it fold properly. Her program searched approximately 1,300 drugs and found 20 drugs, six were found to perform well in Alzheimer’s models and dementia animal models. “The results of my study proved my theory that structurally similar molecules will have similar biological functions,” said Fuad.
Fuad’s findings can potentially shave years off drug research, not to mention millions off research and development costs. “That’s the beauty of drug repurposing,” said Fuad. “These drugs are already FDA-approved so they could get to those in need much faster.” The algorithm can also be used to repurpose pharmaceuticals for diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s.
Fuad submitted her project without the knowledge of, or assistance from, anyone at USM or even her parents. “When they found out that I was named a semi-finalist they were pretty shocked and excited,” said Fuad. “They were wondering what I was spending so much time working on.”