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Shake It Up and Parkinson’s Victoria working together

Apr. 19, 2016

On World Parkinson's Day 2016, Shake It Up Australia and Parkinson's announced their firm commitment to work together in the area of research funding for the benefit of the entire Parkinson's community.

Recognising the importance of collaborating, partnering and leveraging each other's capabilities, Parkinson's Victoria has contributed just under $161,000 over the next three years to a Parkinson's research project jointly funded by the Shake It Up/Michael J. Fox Foundation Partnership.  The Parkinson's Victoria contribution represents 50% of the Shake It Up commitment.

The three year project entitled Measuring mitochondrial respiration and stress signalling in blood cells as biomarkers for Parkinson's disease will be undertaken with La Trobe University researchers - at a total cost of almost $643,000 - to further develop a world-first diagnostic blood test, that could change the lives of people with Parkinson’s. 

Currently no clinical biomarker test exists for Parkinson’s and the only means of diagnosis is a neurological examination. By the time patients develop symptoms and undergo an examination, large numbers of vital brain cells have already been destroyed. La Trobe’s blood test will enable doctors to detect with unprecedented reliability the abnormal metabolism of blood cells in people with Parkinson’s, which will allow them to provide treatment options much earlier.

The test could be available to the public in as little as five years if sufficient additional funds can be raised for its rapid development. 

It is well known that identifying suitable biomarkers is a critical research priority for early diagnosis of Parkinson's and we look forward to hearing how this research progresses over the coming years.

Understanding the science

Diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have long been believed to involve malfunction of cell mitochondria, which are the cells energy factories.  About a decade ago, Professor Paul Fisher’s lab discovered that a permanently switched on ‘alarm’ at the cellular level could be responsible for symptoms in many incurable conditions involving defective mitochondria.

This led to an important new understanding of how mitochondrial defects damage cells, namely that it is a signalling disorder, rather than a fundamental energy insufficiency as previously thought.

“We realised this had important implications for understanding many different forms of mitochondrial disease, as well as most major neurodegenerative disorders” he said.

Professor Fisher explained together with his team, they demonstrated for the first time (using a laboratory organism called Dictyostelium, or Dicty) that an energy and stress-sensing protein, known as AMPK, was permanently activated in mitochondrially diseased cells. This abnormal protein is able to be detected in Lymphocytes or White Blood Cells and may result in a simple blood test for Parkinson’s.

When energy production was compromised, this protein began signalling and interfering with other signalling pathways, causing cell functions to shut down and in Parkinson’s the cells which produce dopamine to be affected.

Professor Fisher’s team then joined forces with Dr Danuta Loesch-Mdzewska, Dr Sarah Annesley and other collaborators to extend their studies in Dicty to cells from Parkinson’s disease patients.

The results were both dramatic and surprising.

Professor Fisher said in people with Parkinson’s, a currently unknown trigger  causes their cells to become ‘hyperactive’, which in turn increases the production of toxic oxygen by-products and over time damages vital cells in the brain.

Apart from developing a definitive blood test, Professor Fisher said further work on differences in blood cells from Parkinson’s patients and healthy control groups might also open a window to the underlying mechanisms of the disease.

The principal researchers for this project are Professor Fisher, Dr Sahra Annesley and Dr Danuta Loesch-Mdzewska.


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