Between seven and 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition marked by tremor, rigidity and the gradual loss of voluntary movement, along with a host of other symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, cognitive issues, constipation, trouble sleeping and pain.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s and there are no treatment strategies that slow or stop disease progression. But thanks to recent advances, scientists at the Institute and around the world are narrowing down the factors that contribute to the disease and working to translate these findings into new, life-changing therapies.
With the exception of a small number of people whose Parkinson’s is directly linked to family genetic inheritance, most cases are sporadic, meaning they have no known cause. A growing body of evidence suggests that genetic and epigenetic predisposition coupled with environmental factors, such as exposure to certain inflammatory agents, may trigger the disease, which progresses for years or even decades before the onset of its signature movement-related symptoms.
With an aging global population, the number of people with Parkinson’s is slated to significantly increase in the coming years, underscoring the importance and urgency of developing improved treatment strategies.
The Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science is home to experts in Parkinson’s disease and other progressive neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple system atrophy whose goal is to improve quality of life for patients by:
The 2019 Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and parallel patient meeting Rallying to the Challenge will focus on understanding genetic risk in Parkinson’s. LEARN MORE>>
Parkinson’s disease 101 (Infographic)
Drug repurposing in Parkinson’s disease (Infographic)
Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration
Dr. José Brás is a world-leading molecular geneticist whose research focuses on how variations in our genes impact the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies. He is an associate professor at Van Andel Research Institute.
Focus area: Neural circuits and neurodegeneration
Dr. Hong-Yuan Chu investigates how and why dopamine-producing cells die off in Parkinson’s, a process that underlies many of the disease’s hallmark symptoms. He plans to leverage this new knowledge to develop new, more precise ways to slow or stop disease progression. He is an assistant professor in the Center for Neurodegenerative Science.
Focus area: Behavioral medicine
As a psychiatrist and a scientist, Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., seeks ways to diagnose and treat depression and suicidality by studying inflammation of the nervous system. Her findings may lead to earlier interventions for depressive patients and for development of a new class of antidepressants that targets the immune system. She also investigates how inflammatory mechanisms can damage nerve cells in Parkinson’s disease.
Focus area: Post-GWAS functionality
Gerhard Coetzee, Ph.D., searches the human genome for minuscule changes that contribute to onset, progression and drug resistance of many diseases, ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s to rare and heritable disorders. His team deploys genome sequencing technologies and high-powered computational arrays to tease out patterns and interactions of markers and treatment targets from among the human genome’s more than three billion DNA base pairs.
Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration
Dr. Rita Guerreiro is an internationally recognized leader in neurogenetics who studies genomic contributors to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. She is an associated professor at Van Andel Research Institute.
Focus area: Epigenetics in neurodegenerative diseases
Viviane Labrie, Ph.D., studies the dynamic interplay between the human genome and its control system—the epigenome—to understand how neurodegenerative diseases start and progress in an effort to develop improved diagnostics and treatments. Labrie’s scientific pursuits have deepened understanding of conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases to schizophrenia to healthy aging conditions like lactose intolerance. She has also developed new methods for epigenome analysis.
Focus area: Prion mechanisms in neurodegeneration
Jiyan Ma, Ph.D., studies abnormal proteins that causes neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and prion diseases in humans and animals. His lab has developed new ways to understand the how these proteins spread and cause diseases in humans and animals. The lab is also developing new approaches to diagnose and treat these devastating disorders.
Focus area: Molecular neurodegeneration
Darren Moore, Ph.D., seeks new diagnostic and treatment approaches for Parkinson’s by investigating the inherited form of the disease, which comprises five to 10 percent of cases. He aims to translate the understanding of these genetic mutations into better treatments and new diagnostic tools for Parkinson’s, both inherited and non-inherited. Discoveries from Moore’s lab routinely elucidate the faulty molecular interactions that transform healthy, functioning neurons into diseased ones.