Research into lipids could be key to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease

A groundbreaking research project led by Maria Ioannou, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, aims to shed light on the role of fat in the brain and its connection to Parkinson’s disease. As the Canada Research Chair in Brain Lipid Cell Biology, Ioannou and her team are delving into the intricate mechanisms underlying the progression of this debilitating neurological disorder.

Lipids, the fatty substances including cholesterol and oils crucial for brain function, have long been overlooked in Parkinson’s research. However, recent technological advancements have provided Ioannou’s team with the tools necessary to explore the role of lipids in driving the disease forward. With the brain containing the second-largest amount of lipids in humans, understanding their impact on cellular function and structure is pivotal.

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“Until recently, we lacked the ability to study lipids in the same way we have for proteins,” Ioannou explains. “We’ve always known that lipids are just as important, and now that tool advancement is catching up, it’s reinvigorated the field and there’s a lot to do.”

Ioannou’s laboratory employs cultured cells from rodents and Parkinson’s disease patients to investigate the intricacies of lipids at a cellular level. By manipulating lipids, they can recreate the environment experienced by cells in the diseased brain, providing invaluable insights into disease progression.

Real-time imaging of cellular processes adds another layer of depth to the study. “This reveals important information about the cellular dynamics that cannot be fully appreciated with a snapshot in time and space,” Ioannou says.

Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder affecting movement, poses significant challenges to both patients and healthcare professionals. With approximately 100,000 Canadians living with Parkinson’s, the need for deeper understanding and effective treatment strategies is urgent.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease remains a complex task due to the absence of definitive tests. Healthcare professionals rely on meticulous medical history, physical examinations, and symptom assessments. Neuroimaging techniques like MRI or CT scans aid in ruling out other conditions mimicking Parkinson’s.

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains elusive, researchers believe it arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The project spearheaded by Ioannou promises not only to enhance our understanding of Parkinson’s but also to provide insights applicable to other neurodegenerative diseases.

“What we learn from this project can be applied to other neurodegenerative diseases as well because lipid disturbances aren’t specific to Parkinson’s disease,” Ioannou says.

With the potential to unlock new therapeutic avenues, Ioannou’s research holds promise for improving the lives of those affected by Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

| Staff

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