By Gina Beach
When he's not riding his Harley, climbing mountains or riding bicycles with his mentor, Ohio University graduate student Adam Jacoby is working toward a lifetime goal of curing neurodegenerative diseases.
His dissertation focuses on the use of nanotechnology to monitor and treat mice with Lou Gehrig's disease (aka amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which affects muscle movement and in patients leads to a gradual paralysis. Nitric oxide jolts neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, causing neurons to work overtime, resulting in twitching and cramping muscles. With treatment, the mice live 30 percent to 40 percent longer than untreated animals.
A native of nearby Fleming, Ohio, Jacoby is scheduled to graduate this spring with a doctorate in biochemistry. He is conducting his research under the direction of Tad Malinski, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Malinski has conducted research on the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring output of cells, which in larger-than-normal amounts can play a role in the development of heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's, among other diseases. The creation of a nanosensor that can detect the tiny molecules of nitric oxide has been a revolutionary breakthrough in Malinski's work. As a member of Ohio University's Nanoscale and Quantum Phenomena Institute, he is one of more than 25 professors studying engineering at the nano scale.
"This is the first kind of study that gives some insight to the molecule that causes damage to the neurons that causes Lou Gehrig's Disease," Malinski said.
Building on Malinski's research, Jacoby is using these sensors -- which are about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair -- to monitor levels of nitric oxide in the mice's central nervous systems.
"What we try to do is to change these little amounts of nitric oxide within the body in small quantities, in so many places to affect a larger picture," Jacoby said. "We're trying to balance [the nitric oxide] so it does something good."
Jacoby said some of the existing drugs reduce pain and other symptoms of the disease. Treatments based on his research might one day work synergistically with drug therapies to treat or cure the disease.
Jacoby performed surgeries on mice to measure the level of nitric oxide. He photographed stained slices of selected organs to observe neurons and amounts of nitric oxide produced. By doing so, he could determine how much of the particle was in the system and then correct it.
"Adam's research is exceptional on this disease and is very high-caliber research," Malinski said. "He has a vision and a scientific talent that is unusual. I hope he stays here at OU."
Jacoby, who earned his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Harding University in 2003, said he hasn't made any plans after graduation, but hopes his research collaboration with Malinski could one day lead to a treatment for people suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.
"Every day means something special to them," Jacoby said. "Every day you can extend their lives is a miracle."