Parkinson's disease: our commitment to finding a cure

Zebrafish

Our pioneering research into Parkinson's could help slow down and stop the disease, which affects over six million people globally.

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition and each day, 80 people are newly diagnosed with the disease in the UK.

Professor Oliver Bandmann, Professor of Movement Disorders Neurology at the University, said: "Parkinson's is currently relentlessly progressive and incurable. However, more and more research on PD is being carried out at our University, paving the way for new treatments."

Tigar – a newly discovered protein

Led by Professor Bandmann our scientists have discovered that inactivation of a protein called Tigar protein – could hold the key to stopping Parkinson’s in patients with certain subtypes of this condition.

The team from our world leading Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and our Bateson Centre, examined the cell death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in zebrafish with mutations in a gene called PINK1. PINK1 is linked to a form of early-onset Parkinson’s in humans.

The scientists discovered that Tigar became overactive in the PINK1 zebrafish suggesting that it may be involved in causing the death of the same nerve cells which also die in the brain of patients with Parkinson's.

By blocking the activity of Tigar, the researchers were able to save these dopamine-producing nerve cells. If Tigar inactivation was to have the same effect in human patients, it could have the potential to stop the progression of at least some subtypes of Parkinson’s.

Promising drug

As well as examing how we can stop Parkinson's, our groundbreaking research has identified new drugs that may have the potential to stop faulty brain cells dying and slow down the progression of the disease.

Professor Bandmann's group tested over 2,000 compounds to find out which ones could make faulty mitochondria – one of the of the main reasons why brain cells die in Parkinson's – work normally again.

One of the promising medications identified was ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA).

This licensed drug has been in clinical use for several decades to treat certain forms of liver disease which means that researchers will be able to immediately start a clinical trial to test its safety and tolerability in people with Parkinson's.

Tailored treatment

Alongside drug treatments, we are also pioneering personal treatment plans for patients with Parkinson's.

Researchers from our University's INSIGNEO, institute for in silico medicine, are among those working to create a computer model that will be able to accurately predict how a person's condition will develop over time.

Professor Kevin Gurney, from INSIGNEO, said: "This project aims to lay the foundations for a step change in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. In the future health professionals will be able to tailor treatment to each individual and help people and their families to plan ahead."

Right now

We're currently participating in the world’s largest long-term study on Parkinson's disease called Tracking Parkinson's. Across the UK, 3,000 patients are being recruited into this study which is funded by the charity Parkinson's UK.