Alzheimer’s breakthrough lands Sydney start-up Skin2Neuron $4m

April 09, 2024

Alzheimer’s breakthrough lands Sydney start-up Skin2Neuron $4m

REPORTER

A start-up that is trying to crack the code to Alzheimer’s disease has raised $4m after discovering that human hair follicles can help restore memory in dogs.

The average hair follicle has 10,000 cells, and the Sydney-based start-up has found that a small number of those cells can be extracted to help alleviate memory loss.

The start-up has discovered that hairs from different parts of the body are equally as successful, eliminating fears that hair loss could limit the number of people benefiting from the breakthrough.

Professor Michael Valenzuela, who co-founded Skin2Neuron with Bill Manos, made the discovery while working at the University of Sydney.

“Our fundamental technology is based on a discovery of what I call neural precursors in the human hair follicle,” Professor Valenzuela tells The Australian.

“A human hair follicle has let’s say 10,000 odd cells within it. What we found is that a very small subset, less than 50 in each follicle, are destined and programmed to become neurons under the right conditions.”

Professor Valenzuela said he believes Skin2Neuron’s differentiating factor is that “we’re not trying to slow the rate of decline, which is the best case scenario at the moment. We’re actually trying to bring back mental function, cognitive function, and quality of life”.

Skin2Neuron has completed trials on three types of animals including dogs who are prone to Alzheimer’s disease and is now looking to begin human trials.

“Not only did we improve mental function in older dogs, we can reverse dementia in the majority of the dogs that were treated,” Professor Valenzuela said.

“When you inject the cells into the hippocampus or the memory centre of the brain, they survive, they migrate to the right locations, they connect into the local circuits and they restore memory impairment back to normal in mice, in rats and in a veterinary trial of dogs that naturally get Alzheimer’s,” Professor Valenzuela said. “All of that has given us the confidence to start planning human trials.”

Investors were also pleased with the start-up’s development of a method of automating the injection process via robot surgeons,” Professor Valenzuela said. “There is the ability to scale up if our human trial in the future is successful.”

Behind the $4m backing is SYNthesis BioVentures, which recently closed the first $20m of its $75m bioscience fund. Its managing director Amir Zalcenstein said start-ups like Skin2Neuron were exactly the kind it wanted to back.

“I think the thing with Skin2Neuron is that it has a scary headline which is cell therapy for Alzheimer’s. Cell therapies have not been overly successful, neither has a cure for Alzheimer’s,” he said.

“But what underpins this company’s work is a fundamental and pivotal scientific discovery. The kind of investments I really like are the ones that have groundbreaking science and because the discovery is so innovative because the execution is actually not that complicated.”

Skin2Neuron told The Australian it is seeking a further $11m before it closes the funding round.

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