Neuron research is helping to pave the way to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Financed through the Academy’s high-risk funding trial, Jaan-Olle Andressoo and his team have developed a new approach to investigating the behaviour of neurons based on the use of naturally occurring neurotrophic factors (NTFs).
NTFs are proteins that are secreted by the body’s own cells. They play a crucial role in the development of neurons and in the maintenance of neural function. Providing protection for neurons against various types of damage, they have important therapeutic potential in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Andressoo and his team, who are based at the University of Helsinki, are currently focusing their attention on Parkinson’s disease.
“Protecting and restoring neuronal networks in Parkinson’s disease is currently impossible with existing therapeutic tools. What we’re trying to do is to make use of natural pathways for repairing these networks,” Andressoo explains.
A new revolutionary treatment method
The development and maintenance of the brain is regulated by chemical messages. The precisely controlled process of chemoattraction is elicited by molecules such as NTFs, which steer axonal growth in the right direction. NTFs are small proteins secreted by the brain’s own cells.
“Our aim is to establish how chemoattraction by NTFs is controlled naturally. The animal models we’re using will allow us to analyse whether elevation of the brain’s own NTFs can help protect and restore functional neuronal circuits,” Andressoo says.
Andressoo expects his team to create proof of concept for a revolutionary, safe and effective treatment initially for Parkinson’s disease and later for other neurodegenerative diseases and central nervous system traumas.
First promising results
The team have already achieved significant results in developing a new method based on microRNA molecules. The method makes it possible to increase the brain GDNF concentration. GDNF is one of the most promising treatments for Parkinson’s disease. The results have been published in PLOS Genetics.
“The new, unpublished results from the next stage of our project also look promising. The results have to do with the development of new treatments for Parkinson’s disease,” Andressoo reveals.
Andressoo hopes his work will open up a new field of research inquiry.
“Rather than knocking out genes, which used to be our focus before, I hope that with my research we’ll be able to knock up gene expression. My research will help to understand which genes can prevent or treat a certain disease at a certain stage.”
Andressoo says that the high-risk funding he received was crucial for him to continue his research.
“My previous funding was just about to end and it was this new funding that allowed me to continue. The high-risk funding also helped us to develop the knowledge that was essential for our application for funding from the Academy of Finland, ERC and other sources. I’m really grateful for the funding I received.”
- Academy of Finland supports scientific risk-taking with purpose-made funding (Academy press release, 2 Sep 2015)