We’re funding 2 projects at the University of Edinburgh which are investigating potential causes of Parkinson’s.
An accurate replica model of Parkinson’s to test treatments
Professor Tilo Kunth is based at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. His project aims to make it much easier to test new Parkinson’s medicines and understand the importance of infection in Parkinson’s.
His team will use live imaging technology to look at a key protein believed to play a central role in damaging brain cells in Parkinson’s. They will see how the protein, alpha-synuclein, behaves when it’s exposed to viruses and toxins.
The team will also investigate whether certain drugs can improve the waste disposal system in brain cells, stopping proteins like alpha-synuclein from building up.
Professor Tilo Kunth said:
“There are 4 factors that might trigger damage or make it worse for people with Parkinson’s: viral infection, exposure to environmental toxins, poor cellular waste disposal and an individual’s genes. Looking at them in combination will enable us to build a complete and accurate model of Parkinson’s in a dish
“That’s important because we can use this model to predict which new medicines are most likely to work in people, speeding up the process of making new treatments available for Parkinson’s.
“In addition to being a great model for testing drugs, this work will help to answer outstanding questions about how viruses impact alpha-synuclein which could change how we think about treating people with Parkinson’s.”
Genetic research and Parkinson’s
We’ve also funded Doctor Kathryn Bowles' research at the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh. The research is looking into the little-known gene LRRC37A2 gene which may play a role in the development of Parkinson’s.
Previous research has found that people with higher levels of the LRRC37A2 gene are less likely to develop Parkinson’s. The gene is thought to help protect the brain, and having less of it could be a risk factor for Parkinson’s.
Dr Bowles and her team will investigate how having more of this gene in the brain could prevent people from developing Parkinson’s.
Dr Bowles says:
“If we can confirm this gene is protective and understand why, that will open up new avenues for therapy. We can then say, these are the mechanisms we need to target, this is how we can change the expression of this gene, and that is a pathway to therapy. It’s quite far away, but it’s a new avenue to go down.”
Why research matters
David Rigg, from Cairneyhill, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 46. He has been involved in lots of research projects, including the recent trial of exenatide, a drug used to treat diabetes, which may slow the progression of Parkinson’s.
David, who is a member of the Dundee Research Interest Group, said:
“I see research as the only chance there is to advance knowledge about Parkinson’s and move towards a cure or better treatments. I know there are more than a hundred trials happening at the moment, needing more than a thousand people to take part. If people do not take part, how can there be any progress?
“Wherever a cure comes from, we are all going to benefit, so that’s great, but at the same time, it is brilliant to see research happening in Scotland.”
Impossible without the fundraising efforts of people in Scotland
James Jopling, Scotland Director for Parkinson’s UK, said:
“We are dedicated to funding research which will bring us new understanding and new treatments for Parkinson’s, faster. It’s fantastic to see new charitable investment in two cutting-edge research projects right here in Scotland. None of this would be possible without the incredible fundraising efforts of the Parkinson’s community here in Scotland.
“We fund the most promising Parkinson's research, and it is brilliant that Scotland’s universities are at the forefront of global progress towards new treatments and a cure.
“The Parkinson’s community in Scotland is incredibly engaged with research, and having local access to world-class scientists enables them to become even more involved.”