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Dundee University scientists make Parkinson's disease breakthrough

Dundee University scientists have made a major breakthrough that could stop devastating Parkinson's disease ''in its tracks''.

Professor Dario Alessi (left) and Dr Miratul Muqit are carrying out ground-breaking research into Parkinson's disease.

By Alan Wilson

Published in the Courier : 23.05.12

Published online : 23.05.12 @ 09.33am

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The findings have been unveiled following a decade of dedicated research at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the university.

The scientists have discovered a molecular ''on-off'' switch for Parkinson's that acts to protect the brain from developing the killer disease.

The research has helped scientists understand how genetic mutations in a gene called PINK1 lead to Parkinson's in patients as young as eight and could eventually lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the condition.

The breakthrough has come after a decade of intensive research at the MRC into the PINK1 enzyme (which is made by the PINK1 gene). Scientists already knew that the job of some proteins inside cells is to switch other important proteins on or off. Understanding how these proteins work and which proteins they target could be the key to why nerve cells die in Parkinson's, and how they can be saved.

Now the Dundee team has found that PINK1 switches on a protein called Parkin, whose main job is to keep cells healthy by removing damaged proteins. Mutations in the gene that makes Parkin can also cause inherited forms of Parkinson's in younger patients.

The team was led jointly by Dr Miratul Muqit and Professor Dario Alessi at the MRC.

''Parkinson's is a devastating degenerative brain disorder and currently we have no drugs in the clinic that can cure or slow the disease down,'' said Dr Muqit, a Wellcome Trust clinician scientist in the Dundee unit.

''Over the last decade many genes have been linked to Parkinson's but a major roadblock has been determining the function of these genes in the brain and how the mutations lead to brain degeneration.

''Our work suggests this pathway can't be switched on in Parkinson's patients with genetic mutations in PINK1 or Parkin. More research will be needed to see whether this also happens in Parkinson's patients who do not carry these mutations.''

Professor Alessi, director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, said: ''Now that we have identified this pathway, the key next step will be to identify the nature of these damaged proteins that are normally removed by Parkin.

''Although further studies are required, our findings also suggest that drugs that switch this pathway on could be used to treat Parkinson's.''

Parkinson's UK director of research and innovation Dr Kieran Breen said: ''We are now beginning to piece together this complex genetic puzzle which will pave the way towards new and better treatments for Parkinson's.

''Current treatments only mask symptoms by boosting the levels of dopamine in the brain and they cannot slow or stop the development of the condition.

''This breakthrough offers real hope for developing treatments that tackle the root causes of Parkinson's by targeting the genes involved in the condition, which could have the potential for halting Parkinson's in its tracks,'' added Dr Breen.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Parkinson's UK, the J. Macdonald Menzies Charitable Trust and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

The research into the disease is published in the latest edition of the journal Open Biology.

The paper was co-authored with Dr Helen Walden from Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute.

The latest figures show that 127,000 people in the UK have Parkinson's, a progressive neurological condition for which there is currently no cure.

There are around 90 ground-breaking research projects worth £15 million being funded across the UK.

Click for more on these topics:

Organisations: Dundee University | Concepts: Parkinson's disease

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Comments [ 7 ]

01.39am - 24.05.2012  Alinka Lindsay Zyrmont - Fountain Hills, Arizona, USA    Report This

Congratulations Dr. Alessi and Muqit for a fantastic job! My mother has suffered with Parkinson's for over nine years and we are elated to know there may be a cure and a medication soon. We here in the USA are counting on you.

11.19pm - 24.05.2012  Ronnie - Dundee, UK    Report This

Echo that. A cure for Parkinson's. Courtesy of Dundee. Imagine that? Go for it, Dundee!!

01.27pm - 28.05.2012  Boothy - Northwich, Cheshire    Report This

I have MSA , Multiple System Atrophy, will this treatment work on that

08.35pm - 30.05.2012  geoff chapman - Lichfield, UK    Report This

May God guide you in this exciting research. My wife is really suffering after 14 Yrs and you give us hope. Geoff Chapman Staffordshire U.K.

05.04pm - 31.05.2012  alan robertson - kelso, uk    Report This

I hope this isnt another false dawn,over the years there has been exciting discoveries only for them to never be heard of again

04.26pm - 02.06.2012  Paul E. - Cambridge, USA    Report This

Thanks for your efforts. May they prove useful. (PD diagnosed 10 years)

10.07am - 14.06.2012  James G Rourke - Congleton, Cheshire    Report This

At last, real hope of a cure and it is extra special that this breakthrough is from the Dundee University in my home town of DUNDEE. As a Parkinson's sufferer, I hope this treatment is available soon. James Rourke (ex Dundee) now living in Congleton, Cheshire, England.

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5 Replies

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  • Sounds promising. Thanks.

  • A few years ago I heard they had made a major breakthrough in Parkinsons, and that a cure would be ready in ten years That is near three years and I heard nothing since.

    While I have interest in all this research, and dont wish to be a kiljoy or a jobs comforter, but once we hear of such news it very quickly becomes history, and dissapears never to be heard of again until another breakthrough is grand slam news. I was interested in the

    protein ''Parkin'' theory. though it made me laugh heartily. We have a cake in Yorkshire called Parkin, I have just made two big slabs of it wrapped up and put away for Halloween and Bonfire night.

    Perhaps I have a cure. Now that would be a breakthrough! (anybody want the recipe?)

    Do excuse my silly sense of humour my intention is not to offend anyone.

  • Thanks-- the puzzle pieces are being put into place-- there's a Jonas Salk out there somewhere who will put them together and halt PD.

  • Thanks-- the puzzle pieces are being put into place-- there's a Jonas Salk out there somewhere who will put them together and halt PD.

  • Thanks-- the puzzle pieces are being put into place-- there's a Jonas Salk out there somewhere who will put them together and halt PD.

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