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Investing right here

Provincial Parkinson Society supports research into degenerative disorder


By Kelly Foss

The research lab of Dr. Brian Staveley, a professor of Biology in the Faculty of Science, has been granted $10,000 by the Parkinson Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to continue their work investigating molecular mechanisms of the disease.

The funding was presented by the provincial society’s vice chair and executive director, Jane Macdonald and Derek Staubitzer, respectively.

Group photo
Dr. Brian Staveley (left) with Parkinson Society of Newfoundland and Labrador vice chair Jane Macdonald and executive director Derek Staubitzer.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Investing in the province

Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impacts many aspects of a person’s motor and non-motor functions. Approximately 1,500 people are living with Parkinson’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, and this number is expected to increase dramatically in the next decade as our overall population ages.

Ms. Macdonald says it is very important the society invests all of its resources back into the province.

“Part of our mission is to support leading-edge research to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease,” she said. “We also want every single dollar donated to Parkinson Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to stay in this province to support programs and services for people living with Parkinson’s, which is why we are so pleased to be able to support Dr. Staveley’s research here at Memorial University.”

“We are certain his work will contribute to the Parkinson’s research underway throughout the world and hopefully the elusive cure for Parkinson’s will be discovered in our lifetime.”

Cheque presentation
With this funding Dr. Brian Staveley will continue to address aspects of the disease by evaluating the consequences of altering the expression of Parkinson’s-related genes in a fruit fly model.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Genetic influence

The activities of many Parkinson’s disease-associated genes can now be linked to difficulties in the internal transport of cellular components, also known as intracellular trafficking systems. These systems have emerged as a major mechanism linking the cellular activities of many Parkinson’s disease-associated genes to the disease.

A number of new genes have been recently identified as having an influence upon Parkinson’s disease. Understanding the biological activities that result from turning down or increasing the activity of a selected group of these genes, as well as how they interact with other genes and the intracellular processes they control is of great interest to researchers.

“For years we have been exploring the consequences of altering the expression of genes related to Parkinson’s disease in the fruit fly, which is a very genetically flexible model,” said Dr. Staveley.

With this funding he will continue to address aspects of the disease by evaluating premature decreases in mobility and changes in lifespan. This is evaluated in flies that express altered forms of these genes and altered levels of gene expression, and also evaluated in combination with other Parkinson’s disease-related challenges.

The team will take four of the newly identified genes and decrease or increase their expression in targeted tissues, such as in specific types of neurons, to create a number of new fruit fly models of Parkinson’s disease. It is hoped these models will help them uncover the relationships between the new genes and the better-known Parkinson’s-related genes.

Dr. Staveley believes a better understanding of the mechanisms that result in the slow progressive loss of neurons and neuron function, including the ‘natural’ effects of aging upon an individual, may be one of the most important future accomplishments in basic human biology.

“The applications may range from understanding the consequences and benefits of the simplest adjustments in day-to-day care of a person with Parkinson’s disease to the development of strategies to maximize healthy living and longevity, including new therapeutic approaches,” said Dr. Staveley.

This research may have far-reaching implications wherever aging populations and neurodegenerative disease are common.

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