A team at NUI Galway has been awarded funding worth $300,000 from the Michael J Fox Foundation to develop a novel approach to brain repair for Parkinson’s disease.

Established by the Back to the Future star, the foundation is a philanthropic organisation created to fund research that could help lead to the discovery of a cure for the disease and improved therapies for those living with it today.

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.

Irish research

The NUI Galway research team, led by Dr EilĂ­s Dowd, has already demonstrated that cell survival was dramatically improved when a patient’s brain was implanted with a supportive gel made from natural collagens.

With this new funding, Dowd and her team will be able to take this research to the next level by testing to see 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,” Dowd said.

She added that if this new funding achieves what the team sets out to do, it 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”.

Dowd’s work in Parkinson’s research has been featured in the short documentary Feats of Modest Valour, which won the Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York, as well as the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Film Festival in California.

Colm Gorey

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