Race Against Dementia Fellow
Cardiff University, UK
Dr Wioleta Zelek trained in Chemistry and after several years in the Biotech sector, returned to academia and undertook a PhD in Immunology, focused on the complement system. During her PhD, and Fellowships she developed a toolbox of novel complement inhibitors, including patent protected drug candidates and other tool reagents enabling the study of complement in animal disease models.
She was awarded her Race Against Dementia Fellowship in 2021, joining the Cardiff Dementia Research Institute as a UK DRI Emerging Leader. Dr Zelek is focused on developing a brain penetrant anti-complement drug candidates to target neuroinflammation, the critical driver of pathology in Alzheimer’s disease.
“This Fellowship allows me to develop a new approach to Alzheimer’s disease therapy and provide better ways of treating multiple dementias. I am enthused by the Formula 1 mindset that underpins Race Against Dementia and enjoy applying the principles to my research.”
Dr Wioleta Zelek
Complement is a system of proteins in the blood that exists to counter bacterial infections, either by directly killing bacteria or provoking white blood cells to eat them. The direct-killing part of complement is a protein complex called MAC, which bursts bacteria and human cells alike by poking holes in their surfaces (like a pinprick in a balloon). Leaking cells cause lots of inflammation. Inflammation is implicated in many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Zelek is testing the idea that overactivity in MAC, and the inflammation it causes, is an important driver of Alzheimer’s disease. She is developing new ways of targeting MAC in ways which will prevent the ‘hole-punching’ activity that is most harmful to cells and the most inflammatory, while leaving intact the important roles of complement in killing bacteria.
Wioleta is generating MAC-blocking drugs capable of entering the brain that can stop MAC-driven brain inflammation. She is developing these agents using test-tube models of the barrier between the blood and brain, selecting the best agents from these studies and providing a proof-of-concept for their use in Alzheimer’s disease by testing them in appropriate animal models. She hopes this will lay the groundwork for future human therapies.