Sheffield scientist awarded funding to develop new treatment for Parkinson's disease

Dr Helen MortiboysDr Helen Mortiboys
Dr Helen Mortiboys | User (UGC)
For the first time ever a new treatment that could protect brain cells affected by Parkinson’s disease, potentially slowing, or stopping its progression, is set to be developed in Sheffield after academics were awarded funding.

Dr Helen Mortiboys and her team from the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and the University’s new Neuroscience Institute have been awarded £100,000 of funding by the Virtual Biotech Programme, the drug development arm of charity Parkinson’s UK.

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The funding will allow the team to work with the charity over the next year to modify a number of drug compounds to boost cell function in people living with Parkinson’s.

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 Prof Pamela Shaw, head of the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield Prof Pamela Shaw, head of the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield
Prof Pamela Shaw, head of the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield | JPIMedia

Dopamine-containing brain cells, which are vital for healthy coordination and movement, rely on energy-producing mitochondria to function, but in people living with Parkinson’s the mitochondria, or ‘powerhouse’ of the cells are disrupted and the cells begin to fail and slowly die.

As a Senior Research Fellow for Parkinson's UK, Dr Mortiboys and her team identified and isolated a number of drug compounds which were found to boost the mitochondrial function in these cells and potentially reduce cell death, something which causes the main symptoms of Parkinson’s such as loss of movement, tremors and rigidity.

It is hoped they can identify a lead molecule which can then be progressed through the drug discovery pipeline with partners at the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre.

Dr Mortiboys said the new partnership could mean a step closer to a pioneering breakthrough treatment for Parkinson’s patients.

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“All the clinical treatments for people living with Parkinson’s at the moment are based on easing these sometimes devastating symptoms,” she added. “With this new funding award through the Virtual Biotech Programme, we have the potential to go on to develop a drug treatment which will actively address the root cause of these symptoms to slow, or halt the progression of Parkinson’s for the first time.”

The research forms part of the work of the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute, that aims to transform scientific discoveries into pioneering treatments that will benefit patients living with neurodegenerative disorders.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Director of SITraN and the Neuroscience Institute said: “There is an urgent need for treatments to protect the nerve cells that become damaged in patients with Parkinson’s disease, which will have a crucial impact in slowing the progression of the condition and improving the quality of life.

“We plan to take the most promising of these from the SITraN laboratories to progress along the drug discovery pipeline for patients with partners at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. We are hugely grateful to Parkinson’s UK for supporting this important translational research.”