Liliya Euro, postdoctoral researcher, and Jana Buzkova, project planning officer, who work in a research group led by Academy Professor Anu Wartiowaara say that as researchers, they didn’t consider NADmed an innovation when they started working on it. It was just regular methodological development related to research.
Wartiovaara’s laboratory specialises in human energy metabolism, or how food is transformed into energy needed by cells, and in mitochondrial diseases. The metabolic products of vitamin B3, known as NAD metabolites, are key to the regulation of energy metabolism.
There are a total of four NAD metabolites: NAD+ and NADP+ as well as NADH and NADPH. These four molecules regulate more than 250 vital intracellular processes. As astounding as it may seem, humans need vitamin B3 only to produce these four molecules.
The researchers found that in patients suffering from certain diseases, NAD levels dropped sharply in tissues with defective mitochondria. This made them consider whether a vitamin B3 supplement might help such patients.
“The next question was how to monitor the effect of the vitamin supplement on patients’ NAD levels,” says Euro. Measuring them from patients’ blood samples was the obvious solution, but there was not technique available for doing so.
As Euro had previous experience in developing laboratory techniques, she decided to build another tool, one suited to this specific purpose. The biggest challenge was separating NAD metabolites from the blood, since NAD+ and NADP+ are stable in different conditions than NADH and NADPH.
“In the end, we succeeded in developing a fairly easy-to-use technique, with which we are able to separate all four metabolites as well as measure the amount of these metabolites", Buzkova says and adds:
“We then realised that we have in our hands an innovation that can potentially be applied to the diagnostics of a range of diseases."
Broad application potential
For the purposes of developing and productising the innovation, the researchers established the NADmed team that currently has four members: Academy Professor Anu Wartiovaara acts as a link to the clinic and samples collected from patients with mitochondrial diseases, Liliya Euro is focused on developing the technology, Jana Buzkova serves as the project manager and Pirjo Karttunen, laboratory technician, analyses NAD levels from biobank samples.
The NADmed team is in the process of developing a diagnostics test suited to clinical use, with which all four NAD metabolites can be measured. A patent application pertaining to the core technology of the technique is also pending.
“At the moment, we are investigating the significance of the NAD metabolites for various diseases, in cooperation with Finnish biobanks, the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service and a number of other research groups,” says Euro.
The researchers believe that there are many areas where a technique measuring NAD metabolites can be applied.
“It can be used when assessing the need for a vitamin B3 supplement, as well as when monitoring patients taking supplements and determining the appropriate dose. The technique can also be combined with drug screening in the case of diseases where NAD metabolite levels collapse – NAD levels returning to normal are an indication of a drug’s effectiveness and the patient's improving condition", Euro states.