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UTSC researcher receives grant to study potential Parkinson’s treatment

Joanne Nash at work in her lab.

Joanne Nash received a $250,000 grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation to study whether a protein called Sirtuin-3 could have a role in protecting brain cells from dying in Parkinson’s disease. If successful, the research could point the way towards the first drug treatment capable of slowing or halting the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. In people with the disease, nerve cells responsible for producing the brain chemical dopamine gradually degenerate, and the lack of dopamine results in movement problems such as shakiness, slowness, and loss of balance.

Sirtuins are a family of proteins that have been shown to have anti-aging effects in the body. Sirtuin-3 is plentiful in the brain, and seems to be associated with the health of mitochondria, the organelles that provide power and protection within each cell.

“It’s now quite strongly believed that mitochondria, if they’re dysfunctional, can promote neurodegenerative diseases,” says Nash, an associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

She hopes that more Sirtuin-3 will protect the health of the mitochondria, and slow or prevent degeneration of the dopamine-producing neurons.

To test the theory Nash will overexpress Sirtuin-3 in a pre-clinical model that exhibits Parkinson’s-like pathology and symptoms. This will enable Dr. Nash to determine if Sirtuin-3 can slow or eliminate pathology in models which haven’t developed the disease yet, and stop progression of pathology and improve or eliminate symptoms in models which already have the disease.

If successful, the research could eventually lead to treatment of humans. The next step would be to look for small molecules that increased the amount of Sirtuin-3 available in the brain.

As the world’s largest private funder of Parkinson’s research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to accelerating a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improved therapies for those living with the condition today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson’s patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers.

© University of Toronto Scarborough