New research could help Parkinson’s disease sufferers

Scientists at Aston University in Birmingham have been awarded a substantial research grant worth over half a million pounds that could lead to new treatments for human motor disorders, including Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Ian Stanford, who is a lecturer in the School of Health & Life Sciences, will lead the project which will run for the next five years.

The research will explore a relatively unknown area of the brain called the basal ganglia (BG). The BG are of a set of six interconnected nuclei, which control voluntary movement, cognition in the form of learned motor tasks, and motivated behaviour.

Diseases of the nuclei within the BG results in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, hemiballism (involuntary movement affecting one side of the body) and seizures.

Dr Stanford explains: ’the current treatment for movement disorders of the basal ganglia is based on drug therapy or surgery which targets specific basal ganglia nuclei. ’However, in many cases mechanistic explanations of the benefits, or the consideration of improved therapy without extensive side effects, is hampered by our lack of understanding of how these individual basal ganglia function, how they interact with other regions in the brain and how functional basal ganglia output is regulated.

’Indeed, we have very little information on the level of inter-communication and how activities at the level of the single cell level or neuronal network are regulated. We plan to find out more about this through our new research, the results of which will give us a much better idea of how best to treat motor disorders in the future,’ he added.

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