A Multi-disciplinary Approach to Understanding the Causes of Parkinson’s Disease and Identifying Therapeutic Targets

Academic Lead – Alexander Whitworth  (Sheffield)

Neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) present an increasing threat to ageing populations. These disorders have been highlighted by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust as a major biomedical challenge of strategic importance to tackle in the next decade.

PD is caused by the death of specific nerve cells in the brain, known as the dopaminergic neurons, and manifests in progressively debilitating movement disorders. Tremendous insight into the causes of PD has been gained over the past 15 years through the analysis of animal and cell models, which has highlighted the molecular pathways that are involved. Despite intense effort to understand and treat the disease there is currently no cure or effective therapy.

A major bottleneck to development of therapeutic treatments is the need for integrated multi-disciplinary approaches to understand fully the causes of PD and determine the efficacy of putative interventions at the molecular, cellular and systems levels. This degree of multi-disciplinarity and broad range of skill sets is hard to achieve at any one research centre. The aim of this network is to bring together expert researchers who are taking different but complementary approaches to understand PD, and identify and validate therapeutic targets.

Each White Rose university currently has pairs of researchers who have developed specialised niches in the PD field; Whitworth and Bandmann (Sheffield), genetic studies in Drosophila and zebrafish animal models; Robinson and Morrison (Leeds), molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches for screening; Elliott and Sweeney (York), electrophysiology and neurobiology of PD models. This network will allow us to bring these complementary skills together and undertake new inter-disciplinary projects. This will lay the foundation for future collaborations between the universities. The new collaborations will form the following inter-disciplinary approaches: electrophysiological and behavioural analysis of zebrafish PD models (Elliott-Bandmann); molecular and cellular analysis of pathological pathways in mammalian and Drosophila PD models (Morrison-Sweeney); proteomic analysis of therapeutic pathways in mammalian and Drosophila PD models (Whitworth-Robinson).

The White Rose Universities has committed significant support to research centres aimed at investigating human diseases and translating this research toward therapeutic treatments (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience and MRC Centre for Development and Biomedical Genetics; Leeds Institute for Molecular Medicine and Biomedical and Health Research Centre; York Bioscience Technology Facility). This network will add significant value to and help realise the goals of the Universities’ individual investments.

Network Projects

Analysis of neuroprotective mechanisms against Parkinson’s disease

Principal Supervisor – Alexander Whitworth (Sheffield)

The visual consequences of Parkinson’s disease

Principal Supervisor – Chris J. H. Elliott (York)

Pathological Cellular Signalling in Parkinson’s Disease.

Principal Supervisor – Ewan Morrison (Leeds)