Forschungszentrum Jülich and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
Protein structures and ligand interactions; function and dysfunction of proteins; focus on neurodegenerative diseases. NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, computer simulations.
We have developed a therapeutic strategy for protein misfolding diseases and call it anti-prionic. For Alzheimer’s disease, we have shown proof-of-concept in four animal models and progressed through phase I clinics. The compound directly disassembles toxic Aβ oligomer prions into harmless Aβ monomers.
Dieter Willbold studied biochemistry in Tübingen, Bayreuth and Boulder (Colorado, USA). He completed his dissertation in 1994 at the Department of Structure and Chemistry of Biopolymers of the University of Bayreuth. After some more years in Bayreuth and a couple of research visits at the Sackler School of Medicine of the Tel-Aviv University, he headed a junior research group at the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology in Jena. In 2001 Willbold accepted an offer for a professorship "NMR Spectroscopy of Biological Macromolecules" at the Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf. Since 2004, he is full professor at the Institute of Physical Biology in Düsseldorf and director at Forschungszentrum Jülich.
The Institute of Structural Biochemistry combines fundamental structural biological research with applied clinical research, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease. The molecular basis of the disease is being decoded by the research group led by Professor Dieter Willbold, using high-resolution structural biological methods such as NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy, as well as simulations run on Jülich’s supercomputers. The Institute is one of the world’s leading centres for basic research in this area.
The institute is also developing an innovative therapy strategy using an in-house developed drug candidate that eliminates Aβ oligomers. These small soluble aggregates of the body’s own amyloid beta protein are considered to be key drivers of the disease's development and progression. The spin-off company Priavoid GmbH was established to develop the drug further. In addition, the researchers have advanced the diagnostic procedure, enabling significantly earlier and more reliable diagnoses, and helping to better assess therapeutic success in clinical trials. The ‘sFIDA method’ allows the detection of minute quantities of oligomers in samples of body fluids and is exploring and developing their use as biomarkers for diagnosing the disease. Another spin-off company, attyloid GmbH was founded to bring the technology to the market.
Further, the institute uses its research infrastructure for investigations into viral proteins, e.g. for HIV, basic cellular processes like autophagy, and biotechnologically interesting proteins like the DERA Enzyme.