Monday, November 17, 2008

How do you TRAP a Disease?

There is some new and exciting research out in the media over the past few days. It seems that some smart scientists have discovered a way to identify the genetic messages of distinct cells.

Before I go into how this works I want to discuss how this helps Parkinson's Disease research. As is well known, the ongoing, progressive cause of Parkinson's is the death of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra section of the brain. The aspect of this that is not well known is that there are 2 different types of dopamine neurons in this brain section, but only one of the types dies off in PD. No one understands why this is the case, how it happens or if there is a way to stop it. The main reason that none of this process is understood is that there has been no good way to isolate and analyze these two different cell types. That is there wasn't a way until recently.

Scientists at the Michael Stern Parkinson's Disease Foundation, part of Rockefeller University, have developed a method to distinguish between these 2 types of dopamine cells as well as all other cell types. They developed a procedure called Translational Ribosome Affinity Purification (TRAP) that can essentially isolate the genetic messages of any cell thereby showing the differences in the cells at a genetic level.

All cells have a structure called ribosomes that work as the protein production factories. The proteins that are "created" within the ribosomes are a direct result of their genetic make up. By looking at which proteins are produced scientists can determine which genes are "turned on" in the cell. By understanding which genes are "turned on" scientists can determine differences in similar cell types.

TRAP uses genetically engineered mice to tag ribosomes in a particular cell type and then capture the genetic messages as they pass through ribosomes on their way to creating proteins.

So how does this research help Parkinson's Disease? Well, first it allows for better research into how the two types of dopamine neurons differ. Understanding this difference may point to reasons why one type dies while the other lives on as usual. Also, understanding the proteins created by the diseased cell type may offer insight into better treatments for PD. Who knows... it may be possible to somehow supplement the proteins that the dying cells created.

All in all I think this is a remarkable breakthrough that has the potential to speed up research into new treatments as well as new avenues for research into what causes Parkinson's Disease in the first place.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Causes Parkinson's?

No matter what I read about Parkinson's I am still intrigued the most by the question of what causes this difficult disease? Why does it sometimes seem to run in families, but more often than not seem to just affect someone out of the blue?

I have read extensively about possible causes mostly because knowing the exact cause can only help with finding a way to stop the disease and/or cure it. My own personal belief is that there is often a genetic pre-disposition, but that there is also generally something environmental that triggers the cell death that occurs. Then again I am sure that there are cases with no genetic link at all and other cases where the disease developed solely based on genetics. I'd love to know how this continuum from genetics to environment works.

I know a lot about several of the genes that are implicated as links to Parkinson's, but so far there is no smoking gun genetically. I also know that pesticides and heavy metals are often sited as environmental causes. The latest potential cause is that the heavy metals that often exist in wine can lead to Parkinson's (as well as some cancers). Just a few years ago the biggest "healthy thing" to do was to have 1 glass of red wine a day to protect your heart. So it seems that wine might protect your heart, but hurt you in other ways.

I do not believe we know at this time whether or not most of the sources implicated truly cause disease or protect us against disease. I am hoping that in due time these things will become more apparent. For now I am planning to live my life well and enjoy every moment. I don't plan to be overly worried about pesticides, heavy metals in wine or my genetics.

How about you? Would you want to know if you had a PD gene? Are you avoiding all pesticides and other possible environment causes? Let me know.