NeuRA receives first Australian grant from Shake It Up and Michael J. Fox Foundation

Neuroscience Research Australia received the first of up to $3 million worth of Australian research grants to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease from Shake It Up Australia and The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF).

The research will explore the potential link between the immune system and the gene LRRK2 in people with Parkinson’s disease. Scientists believe mutations in this protein could be the most common hereditary genetic cause of Parkinson’s identified to date.

World-leading Sydney medical researcher Prof Glenda Halliday and her co-researcher, Dr Nic Dzamko have been awarded $150,000 to study how immune cells detect and respond to inflammatory stimuli and whether LRRK2 is involved.

Prof Halliday is a senior scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). Dr Dzamko is a CJ Martin Fellow of the NHMRC at NeuRA.

“This grant will allow us to determine whether LRRK2 affects innate immunity, the first non-specific line of immune defence, and whether LRRK2 function in immune cells is changed in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” Prof. Halliday said.

“Thanks to support from MJFF and Shake it Up, we have become a part of the international LRRK2 Biology Consortium that is working to determine how LRRK2 causes Parkinson’s disease so that the mechanism can be targeted therapeutically.

“Determining whether and how LRRK2 affects innate immune pathways will identify potentially modifiable pathways for therapeutic targeting.”

“If we observe a change in LRRK2 only in immune cells from patients with Parkinson’s disease, we will assess this finding further as a potential biomarker for the disease.”

Shake It Up was established this year by businessman Clyde Campbell who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009 at the age of 44. Shake It Up works with MJFF to direct money to high-impact Parkinson’s research projects throughout Australia.

Mr. Campbell, who is one of about 80,000 Australians with Parkinson’s disease, said Shake It Up is devoted to funding innovative research in Australia into the mechanisms that cause Parkinson’s disease.

“Our end goal is finding a cure,” Mr Campbell said. “The research being performed by Prof Halliday is innovative and could have wider ramifications for other motor-neurone diseases.”

A key objective of the collaboration with MJFF is to bring the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) to Australia. PPMI is MJFF’s landmark five-year international clinical study aiming to identify biomarkers that reveal the progression of Parkinson’s disease, which is critical to developing long-awaited disease-modifying treatments that could transform patients’ lives.

The study is already under way in the United States and Europe. Expansion into Australia will make the study truly global, increasing chances to identify universally relevant biomarkers.