Race Against Dementia Fellow
Cardiff University, UK
Dr Wiola Zelek has a background in Chemistry, and after working in biotech for several years, she returned to academia to pursue a PhD in Immunology, focusing on the complement system.
During her PhD and Fellowships, Wiola 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. Wiola focuses 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.”
Dr Wioleta Zelek
Complement is a system of proteins in the blood that exists to counter bacterial infections. It either directly kills bacteria or provokes white blood cells to eat them.
The direct-kill part of complement is a protein complex called MAC. MAC bursts bacteria and human cells alike by poking holes in their surfaces (like a pinprick in a balloon). Leaking cells cause inflammation.
Wiola is testing the idea that MAC overactivity – and the inflammation it causes – is an important driver of Alzheimer’s disease. She is developing new ways to prevent the inflammatory ‘hole-punching’ activity that harms to cells, while leaving intact the important roles of complement plays in killing bacteria. Wiola is developing MAC-blocking drugs to stop brain inflammation, using test-tube models of the barrier between the blood and brain, selecting the best agents from these studies. Proof-of-concept testing using appropriate animal models will evaluate their effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease