West Michigan researchers testing possible cure for Parkinson’s disease


Masha Guthrie

Date: 02.01.2018

West Michigan researchers have been awarded a two-year, $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to test a possible cure for Parkinson's disease.

Grand Valley State University, the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and Rush University in Illinois are engaged in the biomedical research project.

Parkinson's is a progressive disease that targets neurons that are critical for regulating movement and without those neurons the ability to move becomes disrupted, according to Merritt DeLano-Taylor, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at Grand Valley.

"The VARI has the exceptionally talented Patrik Brundin leading their neurodegeneration group,'' said DeLano-Taylor, who will serve as one of three principal investigators for the project.

"His experimental models allow us to take our technology to a new level, and we can do this all in our own neighborhood. It is the spirit of collaboration and the opportunity created by investment in the biomedical sciences here in West Michigan that has made this possible.''

The main targets of neuronal loss in Parkinson's disease are dopamine neurons, and this research project will test if the introduction of a modified protein, known as PM-Nato3, will protect those neurons from the toxicity of the disease.

DeLano-Taylor said there are two strategies for curing Parkinson's. While their grant works toward addressing protecting the neurons from getting damage through the pathology of the disease, he said the other strategy is to replace the neurons that are damaged from the disease.

"Our hope is that one or both strategies will be able to help Parkinson's disease within the next 10 years,'' he said.

"Both of these strategies have been advancing over the past decade. We are further along than we thought we would be toward finding a cure in the field.''

In 2016, Van Andel Research Institute announced researcher's work with a "trash removal" protein called Tet3FL could aid in the fight against diseases like Parkinson's.

Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with disease.

"Ultimately, we hope to provide a real therapeutic tool that can help people because in the United States, the cost of these diseases is in excess of $25 billion per year -- the human cost is obviously much greater," said DeLano-Taylor.

The patent-pending technology that will be used in the research was developed by Grand Valley alumni Nicholas Huisingh, Jordan Straight, Daniel Doyle and Douglas Peterson while they were undergraduate students.

DeLano-Tayor said researchers have made an agent that can help drive and harness the cells ability to generate protective factors that are known to protect against Parkinson's.

He said the unique characteristic of the agent is that it activates many of these neuroprotective factors, so the hope is that they will be able to give greater therapeutic benefit.

Using human dopamine neurons, Delano-Taylor said researchers are testing how well the agent can protect the neurons from conditions that mimic Parkinson's.

Besides Brundin, VARI Associate Director of Research, Rush University's Jeffery Kordower is also a partner in the project. Van Andel and Rush will be testing the agent in animal models for therapeutic benefits.

DeLano-Taylor said that a special component of this work meets the "double bottom line" of his research lab at Grand Valley -- ask interesting questions and engage students.

"A remarkable thing about this is that it represents the synergy that is happening in West Michigan,'' he said.

"VAI's outstanding investigators and Grand Valley's innovation centered investment in its students and faculty have combined to create a remarkable opportunity that the NIH (National Institutes of Health) is excited about supporting.''

This material was created specially for WorldHealthNews project by Masha Guthrie.

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