12:40am Tuesday 28 January 2020

Worms may hold key to understanding Parkinson's

The research, funded by the Parkinson’s Disease Society, will see Dr Anton Gartner and his team use a simple worm called C. elegans to chemically induce nerve cell death so that they can study why brain nerve cells die in Parkinson’s

Worms are used as they are one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system, sharing more than 50% of their genes with humans, including those involved in inherited Parkinson’s. In addition, the way nerve cells communicate with each other in worms is similar to how it works in humans.

‘Research leading to an eventual cure for Parkinson’ s disease is a daunting task, and requires a very broad and multidisciplinary approach,’ explained Dr Gartner.

‘I am grateful to the Parkinson’s society to recognise this and to so generously support our research. Support by the Parkinson’s society helped to attract further funding into Parkinson’s disease to Dundee.’

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition affecting movements such as walking, talking, and writing. It occurs as result of a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain known as the substantia nigra.

These cells are responsible for producing a chemical known as dopamine, which allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that co-ordinate movement. With the depletion of dopamine-producing cells, these parts of the brain are unable to function normally.

There are around 120,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK. In a small number of people (up to 5%), Parkinson’s is believed to be directly inherited. It is known that several genes, including LRRK2, have already been linked to the hereditary form of the condition.

It’s also thought that there may be genetic factors that make some people more susceptible to developing the non-inherited form of Parkinson’s.

The researchers also want to understand how changes or mutations in the LRRK2 gene lead to the development of Parkinson’s, and how drugs could stop the damage that these mutations cause to nerve cells. The Dundee team also want to look at the reasons for this so that can reduce the side effects of Parkinson’s medications.

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society, said, ‘It’s fascinating that such a simple animal as a worm can be an excellent model for Parkinson’s researchers to study what happens in specific nerve cells.’

‘We are delighted to be funding this research with Dr Gartner in Dundee. It will help us to understand better what causes nerve cells to die in Parkinson’s, and will help us to develop new treatments for the condition.’

Notes to editors:

About the Parkinson’s Disease Society:
The Parkinson’s Disease Society (PDS) is the leading authority in the UK on the condition and a world leader in research. They campaign for a better quality of life for people with Parkinson’s wherever they live in the UK, and provide expert information on all aspects of Parkinson’s and a local support network for people with Parkinson’s, their carers, families and friends.

They are the UK’s leading non-commercial funder of research into the cause, prevention and improved management of Parkinson’s and are confident that the work will help lead to a cure. The organisation is totally dependent on voluntary donations.

A freephone Helpline, which provides help and advice to all people affected by Parkinson’s, can be reached by calling 0808 800 0303 Monday-Friday 9.30am-9pm and Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm.

PDS are a membership organisation but support all people affected by Parkinson’s.

For more information, visit: www.parkinsons.org.uk.

For media enquiries contact:
Grant Hill
Press Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384768

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