A team at NUI Galway has been awarded funding of US$300,000 from The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research to develop a novel approach to brain repair for Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a condition that primarily affects a person’s ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability. The symptoms of the condition are caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells that regulate movement.
Brain repair for Parkinson’s involves replacing these dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells back into the brain, but the widespread roll-out of this therapy has been hindered by the poor survival of the implanted cells.
In research that made global headlines recently, Dr Eilís Dowd’s research team at NUI Galway demonstrated that the survival of the cells was dramatically improved when they were implanted into the brain within a supportive gel made from the natural material collagen. The funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow Dr Dowd to take this research to the next level where she will test if the collagen gel can also improve the survival of healthy brain cells generated from adult stem cells.
Commenting on the funding award, Dr Eilís Dowd at NUI Galway, said: “In our previous research published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, we showed that collagen provides the cells with a nurturing, supportive environment in the brain and helps them to survive the aversive transplant process. This funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow us to test if this approach can also improve survival and reparative ability of healthy brain cells derived from adult stem cells. If so, this could lead to a dramatic improvement in brain repair approaches for Parkinson’s – a field that has been hampered for years by poor transplant survival.”
The Michael J Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through a funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.
The research will be led by Dr Eilís Dowd, in collaboration with colleagues from the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, and University of Edinburgh. Dr Dowd’s ongoing research in this field featured in the short documentary Feats of Modest Valour which won the coveted Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York, as well as the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Festival in California.
Dr Eilís Dowd has been working in the field of pre-clinical Parkinson’s research for almost 20 years, and her research focuses on understanding the cause of the condition and on developing novel pharmacological, cell, gene and biomaterial therapies for it. She received her PhD from University of Edinburgh, after which she completed post-doctoral research at University of Cambridge, McGill University, Canada and Cardiff University. Dr Dowd is currently president of Neuroscience Ireland, Ireland’s official neuroscience society. She sits on the governing councils of both the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and the International Brain Research Organization.