Targeting nerve cell batteries to slow Parkinson’s progression

We’re investing nearly £1 million to find a new treatment that targets energy-producing mitochondria to slow the loss of brain cells in Parkinson's.

As part of our Virtual Biotech, we’re partnering with NRG Therapeutics Ltd to identify new molecules that can enter the brain and support the mitochondria – the batteries that power brain cells. If successful, these protective molecules could provide a safe and effective new treatment that will protect brain cells and slow the progression of Parkinson's.

Why target mitochondria?

Nerve cells use an unusually high amount of energy to function properly. This is especially true for the dopamine-producing brain cells that are lost in Parkinson's. As such, dopamine-producing brain cells are very reliant on their mitochondria functioning properly. 

Any disruption can leave them vulnerable and may eventually lead to cell death.

By targeting problems with energy-producing mitochondria, the aim of the research is to prevent further degeneration of remaining dopamine-producing brain cells.

A two-stage process

The first part of the year-long project will screen molecules that target mitochondria. By using high throughput screening, the team will be able to look at several hundred thousand molecules in a short amount of time, meaning they can quickly identify the chemicals with potential as a Parkinson's treatment.

In the second stage, the team will select a small number of the most promising molecules and slightly adapt them so that they not only target mitochondria but can also access the central nervous system with few side effects.

The new drug-like molecules will then be tested to see if they can slow or stop the loss of cells in Parkinson's. If successful, this will pave the way for the molecules to go into further testing and then ultimately enter clinical trials.

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson's UK, who recently joined NRG Therapeutics as Non-Executive Director, said:

"We all know there is a tremendous need to find better treatments for Parkinson's that can slow down the progression of the condition. This pioneering research could be the first step towards identifying molecules that can protect mitochondria within dopamine-producing cells. It is a privilege to be appointed to the board of NRG Therapeutics. I look forward to working with them as we strive to reach our goal of bringing forward better treatments and finding a cure for Parkinson's."

The Parkinson's Virtual Biotech

The Parkinson's Virtual Biotech works just like a regular biotech company - creating and testing new treatments for Parkinson's.

We're investing in research to rapidly develop and test treatments with the potential to transform life for people with the condition.