A research team at NUI Galway has received €300,000 from the Michael J Fox Foundation to develop a new brain repair treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s Disease, often called a ‘movement disorder’, occurs when brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working or die.
The common symptoms of this lifelong condition are tremor, slowness, stiffness, and walking and balance problems.
But it can also lead to constipation, depression, memory problems and other non-movement symptoms.
As a progressive conditions, the symptoms of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease will worsen as time goes on.
Brain repair for Parkinson’s involves replacing the dead cells afflicting sufferers by transplanting healthy brain cells into the brain, but the widespread roll-out of this therapy has been hindered by problems in getting the implanted cells to survive.
In research that made global headlines recently, Dr Eilís Dowd’s research team at NUI Galway demonstrated that the survival of the cells was dramatically improved when they were implanted into the brain within a supportive gel made from the natural material collagen.
The funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow Dr Dowd to take this research to the next level where she will test if the collagen gel can also improve the survival of healthy brain cells generated from adult stem cells.
Dr Dowd said that if their research goes well it could lead to a “dramatic improvement in brain repair approaches for Parkinson’s – a field that has been hampered for years by poor transplant survival.”
Michael J Fox, an actor best known for his role as Marty in the Back to the Future series, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 29 years old in 1991.
After dealing with his condition privately for several years, Fox decided to disclose his diagnosis in 1998 and created the foundation two years later to support research seeking treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.
Today the Michael J Fox Foundation is the largest non-profit funder of research into Parkinson’s in the world.
Dr Liliana Menalled of The Michael J Fox Foundation, said, “Cell replacement therapy is a promising approach to restoring cell function and easing symptoms of Parkinson’s.
“This approach of enhancing cell survival with collagen is an innovative way to overcome a persistent challenge and may significantly advance these therapeutics for the many people living with this disease.”
The research will be led by Dr Eilís Dowd, in collaboration with colleagues from the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM medical devices centre at NUIG.
Dr Eilís Dowd has been working in the field of pre-clinical Parkinson’s research for almost 20 years.
She is focused on both understanding the cause of the condition, and developing new treatments through pharmacological, cell, gene and biomaterial therapies.
Her ongoing research in this field featured in the short documentary Feats of Modest Valour which won the coveted Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York, as well as the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Festival in California.
To view a short trailer of the documentary Feats of Modest Valour, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbMX3QVLwIw
For more about The Michael J Fox Foundation, visit: www.michaeljfox.org/