Irish scientists are at the forefront of a major new research project, which aims to improve our understanding of Parkinson's disease so that better treatments can be developed.
Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disease, the symptoms of which include tremors, stiffness and slow movement. There is currently no cure. One million people in Europe are affected, including 12,000 in Ireland.
The project - PD-MitoQUANT - will be coordinated by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). It aims to increase our understanding of how brain cells become damaged in people with Parkinson's.
The researchers will focus on mitochondria, which are parts of the cell that are known to malfunction in those affected. Mitochondria contribute to cell death and neurodegeneration. However, while there is growing evidence about their role in Parkinson's, no effective treatments have so far been developed in relation to them.
The project has been awarded €7 million by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), which is an EU public-private partnership that funds health research. It chose this project as it recognises the urgent need for new and more effective treatments.
The most common drug used to treat Parkinson's in Ireland is now over 50 years old, and there is no treatment available that can stop, slow down or reverse the disease.
"This project will join forces with top scientists in academia and industry to bring a fresh look on how we identify and test novel drugs for the treatment of this devastating movement disorder," commented PD-MitoQUANT coordinator, Prof Jochen Prehn, of the RCSI.
According to one of the key investigators, Dr Niamh Connolly of the RCSI, while there are therapies available for Parkinson's, they do not improve all symptoms and they do not slow or prevent disease progression over time.
"We hope that a systematic understanding of Parkinson's developed from this project will lead to improved tools for the early stages of drug development, so pharmaceutical companies can develop new treatments in the future," Dr Connolly said.
The project involves 14 partners from nine countries, including academic experts, pharmaceutical companies and the patient advocacy organisation, Parkinson's UK.
The project is due to have its first meeting this month and will run for three years. It has been announced to coincide with National Brain Awareness Week, which runs from March 11-18.
For more information about the project, click here
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