Parkinson’s & related conditions
The CNRM has unequivocally demonstrated its ability to lead major Parkinson’s research. We think differently about the central nervous system, working to deliver new improved diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes for all who are afflicted by Parkinson’s.
Ground-breaking research at UTS’s Centre of Neuroscience & Regenerative Medicine is bringing new hope to countless people whose lives have been devastated by Parkinson’s disease.
The Centre is building to create the pre-eminent Parkinson’s research effort in the Asia Pacific. It will recruit research leaders from different disciplines, who will work together and with scientists globally to make breakthroughs in understanding the brain’s movement control mechanisms and solve the underlying disease.
Parkinson’s is often called a movement disorder because patients experience symptoms such as muscle rigidity, tremor, instability when walking and slowness of movement. However, each patient is different and there are numerous other issues that can occur, such as emotional issues, pain, and problems with intestinal function.
Parkinson’s is also often called a ‘dopamine disorder’ because of the loss of the dopamine neurons that leads to a loss of dopamine in the brain. It is thought that this is what leads to Parkinson’s.
Current treatments alleviate symptoms by replacing the lost dopamine. However, these treatments ultimately cause exhausting dyskinesias. There are no cures that can slow the underlying disease or bring about recovery. They also do not address other symptoms of Parkinson’s and as a consequence, the condition steadily worsens.
The Centre believes in far more sophisticated ways of understanding neural networks, neural circuits and complex disease causes. Its researchers are working on developing new insights in neuroscience and focuses on both the movement and non-movement aspects of Parkinson’s.
The Centre approaches Parkinson’s disease as a complex scenario involving a range of different brain cell types, synapses, circuits and endocrine, inflammatory and other processes throughout the brain and body.
A key aspect of the research at the Centre has been an inflammatory-related theory of Parkinson’s disease, leading to new insights and new ideas for treatment. This is built on previous research which has led the team to consider the link between inflammation, ‘diabetes’ in the brain, and Parkinson’s.
This in turn led to consideration and research into a diabetes-related treatment called GLP-1 mimetics (also known as Victoza).
The Centre is endeavouring to understand how this works in the brain with a view to developing more refined and effective treatments that slow and ultimately cure the underlying disease.
We’re also working on approaches to deal with non-movement-related issues in Parkinson’s such as bowel function and exhaustion.
Critically, as part of the work, we will identify and test potential therapies that may stop l-dopa induced dyskinesias and thereby improve Parkinson’s treatment. Although l-dopa is a wonderful treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it eventually leads to l-dopa-induced dyskinesias, which can be devastating. There are treatments such as deep-brain stimulation that can help, but they do not solve the underlying disease, the symptoms of which can come back.
Little is known about what happens in the brain to cause dyskinesias and there are few treatments that can stop it. We believe we can solve this devastating issue; the work being done in our Parkinson’s Research Program is revealing what happens in the brain with l-dopa treatment that leads to dyskinesias.
We are identifying changes in brain wiring, as well as changes in inflammatory processes that lead to dyskinesias. We are testing new treatments and working with the world’s researchers to bring new ideas and possibilities into the world.
- Investigate new theories including the role of cells called glia and immune cells, in disease cause;
- Engage with world experts with the goal of developing a leading stem cell program;
- Identify and test potential therapies that may stop l-dopa-induced dyskinesias and thereby improve Parkinson’s treatment;
- Consider approaches to deal with non-movement related issues in Parkinson’s, such as pain, anxiety and physical issues;
- Discover the mechanisms and links between inflammation, brain metabolism, infection, neurotrophic factors, and excitotoxicity to identify novel therapeutic approaches;
- Establish the science to study synapses and circuits that underpin movement. If we can understand how these go wrong in Parkinson’s and dyskinesias, we may be able to leverage that knowledge to drive recovery;
- Progress plans for a clinical program and research effort, including affiliated health workers and medical professionals to provide all-of-person care;
- Involve physics, engineering, bioengineering, medicine, and allied health (including nursing and exercise physiology) in a new truly multidisciplinary approach to solve Parkinson’s disease; and
- Work to further develop the Centre’s evidence that regeneration can be stimulated in the brain. If proven, this will change the thinking around the possibility of recovery in Parkinson’s
The Centre is uniquely positioned to transform, modernise, and accelerate research advances due to its ability to integrate research from multiple disciplines in a way that is only possible at an innovative university of technology.
The Centre can bring together biology, medicine, computation, mathematics, chemistry, physics, cell biology, neuroscience, engineering, and bioengineering to impact knowledge in unprecedented ways. The Centre can cultivate an environment of innovation and integration across these disciplines to produce truly innovative science.
Care for patients
With links to medical and allied health, the Centre intends to develop an integrated research and education program in all-of-person care for scientists, doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists, and others in order to help transform patient care, management, and support. It also intends to provide education and support to communities and patients.
The future of Parkinson’s research
Professor Vissel and the CNRM are set to deliver transformational outcomes for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease.
As the Centre grows and continues its research into Parkinson’s disease, it will focus on the areas of slowing nerve cell death, inflammation, regeneration, and dyskinesia. In addition, as the research team grows, it will expand to new areas such as synaptic plasticity and repurposing diabetes drugs as Parkinson’s therapeutics, outlined below:
Nerve cell death
- Continue research into the role of kainate receptors in cell death
- Continue to screen potential therapeutic targets in animal models of Parkinson’s disease * Leverage the opportunities provided by interaction with departments within the Faculty of Science to make our research truly translatable such as designing and testing of drug compounds
- Transform theories about how inflammatory cells and neurons interact with each other into a better understanding of how inflammation creates a unique cellular environment
- Continue to identify how this cellular environment can be altered to provide substantial therapeutic outcomes
- Provide evidence that inflammation and other processes suggested to be involved in Parkinson’s are linked, e.g. inflammation and growth factors
- Continue to screen potential therapies as anti-dyskinetic drugs
- Use relationship with St Vincent’s hospital to streamline promising drugs from preclinical animal models to human trials
- Utilise findings that the brain can repair itself after injury
- Determine if this capacity can be stimulated in Parkinson’s
- It is increasingly shown that synapses play an important role in the overall health of nerve cells and can often degenerate prior to cell death
- Investigate how synapse function changes in Parkinson’s and the subsequent effects on nerve cells and motor function
- Use high-powered and sophisticated imaging techniques to reveal effects of therapies on synapses
Repurposing diabetes drugs
- Establish multi-phase trials of current diabetes drugs as symptomatic and disease-modifying therapies for PD.
- In parallel, establish basic research projects to elucidate the mechanisms underpinning the beneficial effects of diabetes drugs.