Part of the show Naked Q&A and The Life of Benjamin Franklin
Researchers have made a key discovery in understanding the degenerative process underlying Parkinson's disease. The breakthrough hinges on a form of cellular garbage called alpha synuclein, which builds up in brain cells affected by Parkinsons. Antony Cooper, from the University of Missouri and his colleagues have found that the build up blocks the action of a protein, called Ypt1/Rab1, whose role it is to shuttle materials around in cells. Deprived of the function of this essential protein the cells die. But by supplementing the levels of the protein in cells, so it could overcome the effects of the accumulating alpha-synuclein, the researchers found that, in intact flies and worms, and rat brain cells grown in the dish, they could rescue cells previously destined to die. This opens up new avenues for the development of drugs capable of modifying the course of the disease, rather than merely affecting the symptoms, which is the best medicine currently has to offer.