Biomedical and chemical engineers from the University of Cambridge have made progress in the search for the answer to the question of how a person gets Parkinson's disease. As a result, the engineers hope the research could lead to an eventual treatment of the disease.
The Parkinson's Disease foundation has indicated that 10 million people are living with Parkinson's in the world today. They also state that the amount of money spent on Parkinson's in the United States is $25 billion per year. The need for a treatment is high on the light of biomedical and chemical engineers.
A positive sign is that Cambridge claims to have used a "non-invasive method" to observe when proteins in the brain become toxic, which causes the killing of brain cells, ultimately leading to Parkinson's.
According to MedicalXpress, the researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology found that the "same protein can either cause or protect against, the toxic effects that lead to the death of brain cells."
The researchers used "super-resolution microscopy" to monitor the behaviour of alpha-synuclein - one of the lead proteins that are tied to Parkinson's - to document how the protein becomes toxic.
Dr Dorothea Pinotsi, who is working with the team at Cambridge, said: "What hasn't been clear is whether once alpha-synuclein fibrils have formed they are still toxic to the cell."
Using rats as test subjects, the engineers inserted multiple forms of alpha-synuclein into the animals. Pinotsi explains that they are investigating how proteins associated with neurodegenerative conditions grow over time, "and how these proteins come together and are passed on to neighbouring cells."
However, they saw something interesting in the results. Pinotsi says after adding a soluble form of alpha-synuclein to proteins that already included alpha-synuclein, it caused a toxic effect. According to MedicalExpress extra proteins are sometimes caused by ageing but also caution that trauma to the head could also produce extra soluble protein and lead to Parkinson's.
"These findings change the way we look at the disease because the damage to the neuron can happen when there is simply extra soluble protein present in the cell - it's the excess amount of this protein that appears to cause the toxic effect that leads to the death of brain cells," Pinotsi said.
The researchers are hoping with their new discoveries that they could try to develop a treatment for Parkinson's. However, the discoveries they have made in the meantime are revealing new, interesting perspectives on what could lead to a cure.