Research funded by Parkinson’s NSW uncovers potential new therapy for slowing cell death

Research funded by Parkinson’s NSW uncovers potential new therapeutic approach for slowing neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease

Research funded by a grant from Parkinson’s NSW, led by Dr Bryce Vissel and Dr Sandy Stayte at Garvan Institute in Sydney, Australia, has discovered a potential new therapeutic approach with promise for slowing dopamine neuron cell death in Parkinson’s disease.  The results of this groundbreaking research project have been published today in international peer reviewed scientific journal, PLOS ONE and may have implications for ultimately treating the condition.

This research project undertaken by Drs Vissel and Stayte investigated the potential of a molecule called activin A to protect against dopamine cell death in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease.  Activin A is classified as a growth factor, a class of molecules in the brain that have been shown to be important in the development and survival of cells that die in Parkinson’s. The study demonstrated that mice receiving an infusion of activin A directly into the brain had much higher numbers of surviving cells in the region of the brain that is damaged in Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, the team have also previously shown that activin A can stimulate brain regeneration, suggesting that activin A may have a number of beneficial effects in the brain.

“We believe our work reveals a very attractive target that may prevent dopamine cell death and thus possibly slow disease progression” said Dr Vissel.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition which affects the brain’s ability to control movement and may also be associated with other symptoms including mood, depression and anxiety. The motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop when approximately 70% of dopamine cells are damaged. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is necessary for smooth, purposeful movement and the loss of cells that produce this neurotransmitter cause the classic signs of Parkinson’s; tremors, rigidity, and trouble walking and moving.

In Australia, every hour of every day someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  There are 80,000 people with Parkinson’s in Australia across all age groups. Whilst the majority of people affected are over 60 at the time of diagnosis, 20% are of working age and 10% are under the age of 40. There is no known cause or cure.

Miriam Dixon, CEO of Parkinson’s NSW said “Parkinson’s NSW are committed to helping people living with Parkinson’s disease by providing critical services  and through providing grants to help leading local researchers  contribute to worldwide efforts to cure this condition.  It is fantastic to see a research project funded by a Parkinson’s NSW grant produce an outcome that is directed to this goal.”