The Nobel Prize and PD Research: What It Means

sulzer-research-1PDF is excited to tell you that this week’s announcement of the Nobel Prize in Medicine – awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D., of the Tokyo Institute of Technology – has intriguing implications for Parkinson’s research. Dr. Ohsumi received the Nobel Prize for his work to understand autophagy – the way our body’s cells recycle and dispose of waste to stay healthy. About 15 years ago, a PDF-funded research team recognized the importance of Dr. Ohsumi’s groundbreaking discoveries and applied them to Parkinson’s.

Since then and continuing today, PDF scientists have been unraveling the role autophagy plays in Parkinson’s. Dr. Ohsumi’s work was pivotal to PDF advancements and because of your support, PDF-funded discoveries are helping us to understand autophagy and point us toward new therapies.


Timeline of PDF-funded Discoveries: Autophagy & PD

  • 2000: Dr. Sulzer Identifies Autophagy in Neurons: This key discovery by David Sulzer, Ph.D., (pictured top left) and colleagues of the PDF Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center, showed that autophagy is an important cellular process that keeps brain cells healthy.
  • 2004: Drs. Sulzer & Cuervo Link Autophagy & PD: Several other key discoveries by PDF-funded researchers including Dr. Sulzer and Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed that genetic mutations linked with Parkinson’s disrupt the autophagy process in PD brain cells (see their study here). In 2008 and 2013, the same team found that disruptions in autophagy are linked to the hallmark of PD – a build-up of the protein alpha-synuclein – and to a gene linked to PD called LRRK2. See those studies here and here.
  • 2011: Dr. Ebrahimi-Fakhari Links Autophagy to a-Synuclein: Another key discovery came from Darius Ebrahimi-Fakhari, M.D., who was a medical student at the University of Heidelberg when he was awarded a PDF student fellowship in the lab of Pamela McLean, Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital. His findings are helping scientists to identify drugs that might kick-start the recycling process.
  • 2013: Dr. Kuo Links Autophagy to Second PD Gene: Additional discoveries are being kuo-research-2
    made by Sheng-Han Kuo, M.D., (pictured top left, photo two) a PDF-trained movement disorder fellow and a recipient of the PDF Lucien Côté Early Investigator Award in Clinical Genetics, whose work is ongoing. He is finding that mutations in the GBA gene, some of the most significant risk factors for PD, interfere with cell autophagy. Similar to the discoveries above, he is finding that when brain cells’ recycling process is flawed, alpha-synuclein accumulates in the brain. This emphasizes that faulty autophagy is a problem in PD and gives us clues as to why.

jbeck.jpgAs our team continues to build upon Dr. Ohsumi’s Prize-winning work, we will keep you posted on the results. Stay posted to PDF science news (available on our website here) for additional updates.

Our work is made possible by your support. To continue funding innovative PD science, support PDF’s work here.

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