A team at NUI Galway has been awarded funding of $300,000 from The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to develop a novel approach to brain repair for the disease.
Parkinson’s is a condition that affects a person’s ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability. Brain repair for Parkinson’s involves replacing these dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells 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 Michael J Fox Foundation funds 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.
“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,” Dr Dowd said.
"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 research will be led by Dr 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.