Early Investigator Research Award Highlights
Posted May 19, 2023
Avraham Ashkenazi, Ph.D., Tel Aviv University
Dr. Avraham Ashkenazi’s research focuses on developing new diagnostic and therapeutic techniques for Parkinson’s disease (PD) by identifying and understanding the cellular mechanisms that enable neurons to survive. With support from an Early-Investigator Research Award, Dr. Ashkenazi plans to use stem cell technology to explore how exposure to environmental toxins and certain types of proteins affect peripheral autonomic neurons, which are responsible for the functioning of the heart, bladder, intestines, and blood vessels. Because many PD patients will develop gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, or even psychiatric disorders before they experience the onset of motor symptoms, a better understanding of dysfunction in peripheral autonomic neurons not only could help physicians to predict and diagnose PD earlier, but also could lead to the development of novel therapeutic treatment strategies.
Margaret Caulfield, Ph.D., Michigan State University
The success of cell-based therapies in treating Parkinson’s disease (PD), such as grafting new dopamine (DA) neurons into the brain of a person with PD, can vary widely from patient to patient. Dr. Margaret Caulfield’s study, supported by an Early-Investigator Research Award, seeks to better understand how an individual’s unique genetics impacts the success of DA cell replacement therapy. Focusing on a specific genetic variation called rs6265 (also called Val66Met), Dr. Caulfield will test how the presence of the rs6265 gene variant, which suppresses the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that is critical for normal neuron development and function, influences therapeutic outcome of grafting. Curiously, this rs6265 variation has both clinically positive and negative influences on DA cell therapy. Ultimately, Dr. Caulfield seeks to determine whether “the positive” associated with the rs6265 variation is related to a unique factor that improves the likelihood that DA cell replacement therapy will be successful. She also will examine whether supplementing levels of the BDNF in rs6265 subjects can mitigate “the negative.” Understanding how to harness the positive aspects, while modifying the negative, will provide for optimized therapeutic development for PD.
Karen L. Eskow Jaunarajs, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham
Levodopa (L-DOPA) treatment is one of the few effective drug therapies for Parkinson’s disease (PD), but long-term use of this treatment leads to abnormal uncontrollable movements and postures, called L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia and dystonia (LIDD). Dr. Karen Jaunarajs studies the role that the striatum — the brain’s primary motor area — plays in movement disorders. With the help of an Early-Investigator Research Award, she seeks to understand how L-DOPA treatment affects gene expression and transcription in individual cells in the striatum by affecting the three-dimensional availability of DNA as LIDD develops. A more complete understanding of how gene expression changes are affected by L-DOPA and LIDD could lead to the development of new therapies and treatment options for PD.
Danielle Mor, Ph.D., Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University
One of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the formation of Lewy bodies, which are abnormal deposits of the protein a-synuclein in the brain. However, the role of a-synuclein in PD remains unclear. Recent research suggests that a-synuclein may first appear in the neurons of the digestive tract before spreading to the brain. As part of her research into the efficacy of early interventions in the treatment of PD, Dr. Danielle Mor seeks to apply her Early-Investigator Research Award to test this “gut-to-brain” hypothesis using the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) to understand how a-synuclein affects learning and memory, identify how gut-derived a-synuclein enters neurons, and develop novel treatments more quickly than can be accomplished using more traditional rodent models.
For more information on Dr. Mor’s research, visit http://www.themorlab.org and https://www.augusta.edu/mcg/dnrm/faculty/daniellemorlab.php.
Giulietta M. Riboldi, M.D., Ph.D., New York University Grossman School of Medicine
Early identification of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is crucial for successful disease management. However, researchers have yet to fully understand the mechanisms responsible for the development of PD as well as particular biological characteristics, called biomarkers, that would allow early detection of ongoing disease processes. With support from an Early-Investigator Research Award, Dr. Giulietta Riboldi seeks to study how environmental exposures impact the behavior of immune cells by affecting the way their genes work in a cohort of people with certain non-motor clinical presentations (such as impaired sleep cycles and loss of sense of smell) or who carry specific PD-associated gene mutations that indicate an increased risk of developing PD. By correlating environmental exposures with genetic changes in the immune system, Dr. Riboldi hopes to better understand the role the immune system plays in the development of PD and identify biomarkers that clinicians can use to identify the presence of the disease earlier and target suitable preventive interventions.
Link: Epigenetics and PD
Last updated Tuesday, June 6, 2023