Heparin and Heparan Sulphate: From sequence determination to therapeutic strategies for Parkinson’s disease

A major challenge facing an ageing society is the burden of diseases with unmet medical needs such as neurological conditions including Parkinson’s (PD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) but also cancer, diabetes, wound healing and inflammatory diseases. Addressing these needs requires radical new thinking to create innovative, cost-effective and safe solutions – one emerging possibility is the next generation of heparin and heparan sulfate (HS)-based therapeutics.

HS are highly sulfated polysaccharides found in animal tissues. HS binds a variety of protein ligands and regulates a range of biological activities, including development, angiogenesis, blood coagulation and tumour metastasis. Alterations in HS expression are associated with a multitude of diseases. By understanding their functions, we can unlock a tremendous potential for diverse biomedical applications. However, due to a fundamental technological bottleneck, it has been difficult to cash in on this potential.

HS-SEQ is a multi-interdisciplinary European consortium that will tackle this bottleneck by developing an integrated technology platform that can simultaneously record multiple molecular properties, such as molecular weight by mass spectrometry, collisional cross sections by ion mobility spectroscopy and vibrational properties by gas-phase infrared ion spectroscopy, and thus effectively sequence heparin/HS to determine the functional codes within. To showcase its transformative potential, using this platform we aim to develop novel therapeutic strategies for PD.