Why Ohsumi's Nobel Prize is important for Parkinson's

The 2016 Nobel Prize has been awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work on how cells dispose of and recycle waste – a process linked to Parkinson's.

Waste disposal and recycling in cells happens through a process called autophagy. Thanks to Yoshinori's work, we now know that there are different types of autophagy in our cells.

Cell recycling and Parkinson's

Our brain cells work like a complex manufacturing unit. They use energy to build new cell parts and recycle old or damaged components.

Researchers have found that a number of steps in this manufacturing line are affected by Parkinson's – with waste recycling and disposal being amongst the functions that go wrong.

One of the reasons researchers are particularly interested in autophagy in Parkinson's is because of a protein called alpha-synuclein.

In Parkinson's this protein builds up and forms sticky clumps in brain cells, eventually leading to their death.

However, if scientists could boost autophagy they may be able to stop the build-up of this protein and prevent the cells being lost, which would stop symptoms progressing.

Preventing the loss of dopamine-producing cells

Dr Beckie Port, our Senior Research Communications Officer, comments:

"Parkinson's occurs due to a loss of dopamine producing brain cells, and symptoms emerge when more than half of these cells are gone.

"The treatments we have at the moment help mask the symptoms of Parkinson's, but they cannot slow or stop the condition progressing.

"There is an urgent need for new and better treatments that are able to stop Parkinson's in its tracks.

"Research into autophagy has the potential to tackle the underlying causes of Parkinson's and prevent the loss of precious dopamine-producing cells.

"Research in this area is still in its early stages, and it will be a while before treatments progress to clinical trials.

"But understanding the autophagy process could help to unlock future better treatments."

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