Media Release: 06 August 2012
Associate Professor Antony Cooper, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, will be receiving support from the US-based Michael J Fox Foundation, which funds research to speed progress in developing therapies for Parkinson’s Disease.
The Foundation seeks out the most promising research from around the world in its quest to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. Its ‘Target Validation Program’ funds research to confirm new therapeutic targets for Parkinson’s disease using an animal model. In other words, if researchers have identified a gene in worms or yeast or cell culture that they think could be playing a role in Parkinson’s Disease, they are funded to validate their theory in the brains of mice.
Dr Cooper has been investigating a gene known as PARK9 / ATP13a2, that appears to play a protective role by reducing the damaging effects of alpha-synuclein, a protein considered central to the onset and progression of Parkinson’s Disease.
Cooper has done his work to-date in a range of models including cultured neurons, and it will take 2 years for him to validate his work in a mouse model.
“The Michael J Fox Foundation is interested in knowing if PARK9 really does suppress alpha-synuclein in a mouse brain, and if it does, they will have a lot more interest in pursuing it further,” said Cooper.
“Mice which express too much alpha-synuclein have Parkinson’s-like symptoms, impairing their sense of smell and movement. We will be over-expressing PARK9 in those mice to see if it helps reduce their smell and movement problems.”
“At the same time, we’ll try the reverse experiment. We’ll completely remove PARK9 in another group of alpha-synuclein mice to see if it makes their symptoms worse.”
“The other thing we’ll be looking at is the structure of the brain itself. Alpha-synuclein forms little aggregates, or clumps, in the brain when there is too much of it. It would be encouraging if PARK9 brought about improvement there, not just in behaviour and movement.”
Dr Cooper will be collaborating with other specialists from within Garvan, as well as from Neuroscience Research Australia and the Brain and Mind Institute (at the University of Sydney). The project will require highly specialised skills and experience in working with neurons and the brain.