Parkinson’s research at The Garvan.. in layman’s terms

Shake It Up Australia recently launched an opportunity for its supporters to help fund a world leading research opportunity at The Garvin Institute of Medical Research.

To provide greater understanding of the research you’re helping Shake It Up fund, we caught up with Garvan researcher Dr Antony Cooper and asked him about this latest research project and how it will impact our quest for better treatments and ultimately a cure for Parkinson’s:

What area of Parkinson’s are you researching?

Research has identified regions of the human genome that are different between Parkinson’s disease patients and healthy individuals. These regions are known to increase the risk for the disease and a major focus of our research, funded by grants from Shake It Up Australia and the Michael J. Fox Research Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, is to identify the basis for these genomic differences.

Why is this research important?

By discovering what information is encoded in these disease associated regions of the human genome, this research will indicate what factors and cellular pathways contribute to cause Parkinson’s disease and its progression. Identifying these critical features will provide several important advances including indicating the mechanism(s) involved in the disease. This in turn will focus approaches to identify therapies to target these disease mechanisms to prevent (further) disease progression. Additional benefits include the potential to identify critically needed blood based biomarkers to diagnose Parkinson’s patients much earlier (potentially screening all 50-60 year olds), monitor disease progression and permit effective assessment of potential therapies in clinical trials.

What are you trying to discover?

Many of the human genomic regions associated with Parkinson’s disease are likely to produce specific RNA molecules that regulate specific genes in the brain. Our research is seeking to identify these specific RNA molecules, determine if their levels are altered in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, and to identify what roles these RNA molecules play in the brain and Parkinson’s.

Where is the research up to?

To date our research on this topic has already identified a specific RNA molecule whose level is reduced 80% in the brains of Parkinson’s patients compared to similarly aged healthy individuals. Further analysis suggests that this RNA molecule may play a significant role in the disease as it regulates expression of a large number of genes with fundamental connections to cellular processes whose dysfunction is closely associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

This RNA molecule is also found within human blood and in a second Shake It Up Australia and the Michael J. Fox Research Foundation for Parkinson’s Research BioFIND funded project we are assessing if its level in blood could serve as a convenient biomarker for Parkinson’s disease.

This successful approach of identifying specific RNA molecules associated with Parkinson’s is now being applied to assess all the genomic regions associated with the disease for their production of additional RNA molecules.