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UK research could lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s


A team at the University of Sheffield has received a share of $3.6m from the Michael J. Fox Foundation to research potential causes and treatments for Parkinson’s Disease.

Dr. Oliver Bandmann, of the University’s Department of Academic Neurology, and Professor Philip Ingham FRS, of the Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics at the University of Sheffield, are the only team in England to receive an awarded from the Foundation. They have been given £105,000 to investigate the role of specific genes and toxins in the development of Parkinson’s Disease, which could eventually lead to new treatments and possibly a cure for this debilitating condition.

Professor Ingham explains, “Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder that occurs when nerve cells in the brain die or become impaired. These cells produce dopamine, and a lack of dopamine is a characteristic of the condition. Dopamine is responsible for allowing smooth, coordinated function of the body’s muscle and movement, and Parkinson’s sufferers will usually suffer tremors, stiffness, difficulty with balance and slowness of movement.“

Dr. Bandmann explains, “ We will be using the tropical zebrafish in our research, as they are genetically very similar to humans. We know that some people with Parkinson’s have a defect in a gene called DJ1, and will be using the fish to assess the significance of the gene. We can easily inactivate DJ1 in zebrafish and observe the effect this has on brain cells and, crucially, we can also focus on how other factors combine with the gene malfunction to increase the chances of developing Parkinson’s

“Previous studies have shown that some toxins, when given in high enough doses, cause Parkinson’s symptoms. In reality people are usually not exposed to this level of toxin, but we will be looking at how smaller quantities of the toxins affect the brain when DJ1 is not working properly. It could be that mutation of DJ1 can not only cause Parkinson’ by itself, but can also increase people’s the susceptibility to the condition when they are exposed to small amounts of the toxins.

“Once we understand how the different factors causing Parkinson’s work together, we can get closer to curing the condition at its source, rather than just treating the symptoms. As a clinician, I see and treat many patients with Parkinson’s, and to be given a grant that allows me to develop new ways of treating the condition is extremely exciting.”

Professor Ingham adds, “This project is a good example of how we can use the zebrafish as a model system to uncover the genetic and cellular defects that lie at the heart of many debilitating human diseases. The interdisciplinary team in the Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics is using similar approaches to examine root causes and early interventions for a number of conditions including muscular dystrophy and various neurodegenerative disorders.

Lorna Branton | alfa
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