A tête-à-tête about TET2

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Epigenetics is the study of how non-genetic factors affect genetics. It explores the influence of lifestyle or environmental factors on the activity surrounding our DNA.

Recently researchers have been investigating epigenetics within the context of Parkinson’s, and they have discovered a “master switch” that could represent an important target for future therapeutic treatments for the condition.

The research focuses on a protein called TET2.

In today’s post, we will discuss what epigenetics means, review the new research, and consider what the implications of these new findings could be.

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Not the same. Source: AutismBlog.

Identifical twin studies have been extremely useful to our understanding of conditions like Parkinson’s (Click here to read a previous SoPD post on twins research in Parkinson’s)

But the funny thing about identical twins is that in 100% of cases they aren’t identical.

Yeah sure, they initially share exactly the same DNA, but the further they get away from that magically moment of conception, the less alike they are.

Same DNA, subtle differences. Source: National Geographic

And we’re not talking about personality or likes/dislikes here.

As biological organisms twins diverge significantly after conception and as the age through life. But if they share the same DNA – the same genetic blueprint – how are these difference possible?

The answer to this question may lie in epigenetics.

What is epigenetics?

Continue reading “A tête-à-tête about TET2”

GBA: Wider regulation = wider implications

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Tiny variations our DNA can have a significant impact on our lives.

For the last 20 years, Parkinson’s researchers have been collecting data highlighting ‘genetic risk factors’ that are associated with increasing one’s risk of developing the condition.

More recently, however, these same scientists have started shifting their attention to the factors that modulate these genetic risk factors – and some of those influences are also genetic.

In today’s post, we will look at new research exploring genetic variations that influence the effect of the Parkinson’s-associated GBA genetic variants, and discuss why this research has huge implications not only on how we conduct clinical trials, but also on how we will treat Parkinson’s in the future.

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Prof Craig Venter. Source: ScienceMag

In June 2000, when the results of the first human genome sequencing were announced during a ceremony at the White House, the DNA sequencing pioneer Prof Craig Venter observed that “The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis“.

He was suggesting that due to genetic variations among human individuals and populations, the term ‘race’ cannot be biologically defined. There was simply no evidence that the broad groups we commonly refer to as “races” have any distinct or unifying genetic identities (Click here for interesting additional reading on this).

Source: Phillymag

Prof Venter’s words were a powerful statement regarding the incredible variability within our genetic make up.

And that variability is even more remarkable considering that we are all 99.9 percent genetically identical.

So how do we explain the variability then?

Continue reading “GBA: Wider regulation = wider implications”

That time APOE met Alpha Syn

  

Recently two independent research groups published scientific papers providing evidence that a genetic variation associated with Alzheimer’s may also be affecting the severity of pathology in Parkinson’s.

The genetic variation associated with Alzheimer’s occurs in a gene (a functional region of DNA) called ApoE, and the Parkinson’s pathology involves the clustering of a protein called alpha synuclein.

Specifically, both researchers reported that a genetic variation called ApoE4 is associated with higher levels of alpha synuclein clustering. And ApoE4 is also associated with worse cognitive issues in people carrying it.

In today’s post, we will discuss what ApoE is, what is known about ApoE4, what these new studies found, and what it could mean for the future treatment of Parkinson’s and associated conditions.

 


A mutant. Source: Screenrant

When I say the word ‘mutant’, what do you think of?

Perhaps your imagination drifts towards comic book superheroes or characters in movies who have acquired amazing new super powers resulting from their bodies being zapped with toxic gamma-rays or such like.

Alternatively, maybe you think of certain negative connotation associated with the word ‘mutant’. You might associate the word with terms like ‘weirdo’ or ‘oddity’, and think of the ‘freak show’ performers who used to be put on display at the travelling carnivals.

Circus freak show (photo bombing giraffe). Source: Bretlittlehales

In biology, however, the word ‘mutant’ means something utterly different.

What does ‘mutant’ mean in biology?

Continue reading “That time APOE met Alpha Syn”

The other GDNF clinical trial

 

Glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (or GDNF) has been a topic of heated discussion in the Parkinson’s community for a long time. Most recently due to the announcement of the results of the Phase II Bristol GDNF clinical trial results, which did not meet the primary end points of the study (Click here to read more about that).

This week at the annual American Association of Neurological Surgeons conference in San Diego, the results of another GDNF clinical trial were presented.

This new study was a Phase I study assessing the safety and tolerability of a gene therapy approach for GDNF in people with Parkinson’s.

In today’s post, we will discuss what gene therapy is, what the new trial results indicate, and what the researchers may be planning to do next for this new clinical trial programme.

 


Source: AANS

Every year members of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons gather together in one spot and compare data/research/clinical notes.

This year the 87th AANS Annual Scientific Meeting was held in spectacular San Diego.

San Diego. Source: AFP

From Saturday 13th April through till Wednesday 17th, clinicians and researchers attended lectures and discussed new data on every aspect of neurological surgery. While I did not (nor planned to) attend the meeting, I was very interested to learn more about one particular presentation.

It involved the announcement of the results of a clinical trial which was focused on a gene therapy approach for Parkinson’s.

The treatment involved GDNF (Click here to read the abstract).

What is GDNF?

Continue reading “The other GDNF clinical trial”

The Parkinson’s Nebula?

 

There is a great deal of interest in genetic risk factors in Parkinson’s at the moment. A number of companies are providing direct-to-consumer services which provide individuals with some information about their family history and whether they have any of the more common genetic variations that are associated with medical conditions, like Parkinson’s.

Recently a new genetic data company has started – called Nebula Genomics – and they are offering a slightly different kind of service.

While many of the direct-to-consumer genetic companies have a business model that involves selling on genetic information to third parties, Nebula is offering a more patient-empowering option.

In today’s post, we will discuss the genetics of Parkinson’s, what Nebula Genomics is offering, and how this new service could be useful for the Parkinson’s community.

 


Prof George Church. Source: Biospace

Professor George Church is a person most readers will have never heard of.

He is the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT, and was a founding member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

He has co-author of over 500 academic papers, 143 patents and co-founded 22 biotech companies. In addition, he has participated in technology development, advising most of the major Genetic Sequencing companies, and he has been at the forefront of genetic research since the 1980s when he was involved with setting up the Human Genome Project.

His impact in the world of genetics has been tremendous.

But Prof Church is also something of a maverick. A left-field thinker. A disrupter.

He is a great supporter of open access genome sequencing and shareable human medical data. He is also keen to bring back extinct species, such as the Woolly Mammoth (Click here for more on this idea).

The return of the woolly mammoth. Source: Phys

Most recently, however, his name has been associated with a new company called Nebula Genomics.

What does Nebula Genomics do?

Continue reading “The Parkinson’s Nebula?”

We’re re-branding: It’s now called PARPinson’s

 

A new research report has been published this week which may point not only towards a new understanding of the biology of Parkinson’s, but also to potentially novel therapies which are clinically available.

These exciting new findings involve a DNA repair mechanism called ‘poly ADP ribose polymerase’ (or simply PARP) and a process of cell death called Parthanatos.

Biotech companies have developed PARP inhibitors which have been reported to rescue models of Parkinson’s. With a bit of tweaking, this class of drugs could potentially be re-purposed for Parkinson’s.

In today’s post, we will look at what PARP is, explain how PARP inhibitors work, review what previous PD research has been conducted on this topic, evaluate the new report, and consider what it means for the Parkinson’s community (Spoiler alert: this will be a long post!).

 



Source: Quotefancy

Ah, the good old days!

Remember them. Way back before Netflix. When life was sooo much easier.

You know what I’m talking about.

Back when biology was simple. Remember when DNA gave rise to RNA and RNA gave rise to protein, and that was it. Simpler times they were. Now, everything is so much more complicated. We have all manner of ‘regulatory RNA’, epigentics, splice variants, and let’s not get started on the labyrinthian world of protein folding.

Oh, how I long for the good old days.

Back when a cell could only die one of two ways: apoptosis (a carefully controlled programmed manner of death) and necrosis (cell death by injury):

Source: Researchgate

Now life is too complicated and complex beyond reason or imagination.

Let’s just take the example of cell death that I mentioned above: over the past decade, the Nomenclature Committee on Cell Death (or NCCD – I kid you not there is actually a committee for this) has written up guidelines for the definition/interpretation of ‘cell death’. And as part of that effort they have decided that there are now at least 12 (yes, 12) different ways a cell can die:

Source: Nature

For those of who are interested in reading more about all of these different kinds of cell death, click here to read NCCD committee’s most recent recommendations which were updated this year (2018). Some riveting betime reading.

Which form of cell death applies to Parkinson’s?

Now that’s a really good question!

One that has been studied and the source of debate for a very long time.

To be fair, we don’t really know. But fascinating new research published this week suggests that the Parthanatos pathway could be involved in the cell death associated with Parkinson’s.

What is Parthanatos?

Continue reading “We’re re-branding: It’s now called PARPinson’s”

The genetics of Parkinson’s: New mutants

 

The Parkinson’s research community is currently drowning in data related to genetics.

It feels like every time one comes up for air, there is a new study highlighting not one, but half a dozen novel genetic variants associated with an increased risk of developing the condition. This week alone, a new research report has been made available that by itself proposes 39 new genetic risk factors. 

The researchers analysed the DNA of 37,700 people with Parkinson’s and 1.4 million (!!!) healthy control subjects and found a total of 92 genetic risk factors for PD.

But what does it all mean? How much influence does genetics have on Parkinson’s?

In today’s post, we will outline the genetics of Parkinson’s, review some of the new studies, and discuss what the new findings mean for Parkinson’s.

 


Source: Screenrant

When I say the word ‘mutant’, what do you think of?

Perhaps your imagination drifts towards comic book superheroes or characters in movies who have acquired amazing new super powers resulting from their bodies being zapped with toxic gamma-rays or such like.

Alternatively, maybe you think of certain negative connotation associated with the word ‘mutant’. You might associate the word with terms like ‘weirdo’ or ‘oddity’, and think of the ‘freak show’ performers who used to be put on display at the travelling carnivals.

Circus freak show (photo bombing giraffe). Source: Bretlittlehales

In biology, however, the word ‘mutant’ means something utterly different.

What does ‘mutant’ mean in biology?

Continue reading “The genetics of Parkinson’s: New mutants”

Happy birthday: Silverstein Foundation

Over the last 12 months, the Silverstein Foundation has quickly established itself as a major focused force in the fight against Parkinson’s.

And when I say ‘focused’, I mean ‘focused’ –  the foundation is “actively pursues and invests in cutting edge research with the goal of discovering new therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease in glucocerebrosidase (GBA) mutation carriers”.

But the output of this effort may well have major benefits for the entire Parkinson’s community.

In today’s post, we will discuss what GBA is, how it functions inside cells, its association with Parkinson’s, and what all of this GBA focused research being funded by the Silverstein Foundation could mean for the Parkinson’s community.


Jonathan Silverstein. Source: Forbes

This is Jonathan Silverstein.

He’s a dude.

He is also a General Partner and a Co-Head of Global Private Equity at OrbiMed – the world’s largest fully dedicated healthcare fund manager. During his time at OrbiMed, the company has invested in healthcare companies that have been involved with over 60 FDA approved products.

In February 2017, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at just 49 years of age.

Rather than simply accepting this diagnosis, however, Mr Silverstein decided to apply the skills that he has built over a long and successful career in funding biotech technology, and in March 2017, he and his wife, Natalie, set up the Silverstein Foundation.

They raised $6 million from donors and then provided another $10 million of their own money to fund the endeavour, which has funded a dozen research projects and started a new company called Prevail Therapeutics (we’ll come back to this shortly).

Source: Businesswire

The foundation has just one mission: “to actively pursue and invest in cutting edge research with the goal of discovering new therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease in GBA mutation carriers”

And it seeks to address this by achieving three goals:

  1. to find a way to halt the progression of Parkinson’s with GBA.
  2. to identify regenerative approaches to replace the damaged/lost cells
  3. to find preventative measures

What is ‘GBA’?

Continue reading “Happy birthday: Silverstein Foundation”

Voyager Therapeutics: Phase I clinical trial update

Today biotech company Voyager Therapeutics announced an update on their ongoing phase Ib clinical trial. The trial is evaluating the safety and tolerance of a gene therapy approach for people with advanced Parkinson’s.

Gene therapy is a technique that involves inserting new DNA into a cell using viruses. In this clinical trial, the virally delivered DNA helps the infected cell to produce dopamine in order to alleviate the motor features of Parkinson’s.

In today’s post we will discuss what gene therapy is, review the new results mentioned in the update, and look at other gene therapy approaches for Parkinson’s.



Source: Baltimoresun

Voyager Therapeutics is a clinical-stage gene therapy company that is focused on treatments for neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s. Today the company announced an update of their ongoing Phase 1b trial of their product VY-AADC01 (Click here to see the press release).

VY-AADC01 represents a new class of treatment for Parkinson’s, as it is a form of gene therapy.

What is gene therapy?

The gene therapy involves introducing a piece of DNA into a cell which will cause the cell to produce proteins that they usually do not (either by nature or by mutation). The DNA is artificially inserted into cells and the cell’s protein producing machinery does the rest.

Source: Yourgenome

How does gene therapy work?

Continue reading “Voyager Therapeutics: Phase I clinical trial update”

One black sheep per week

Each time a cell divides, the DNA inside the resulting pair of cells has changed slightly. These small alterations – known as genetic mutations – provide a method by which an organism can randomly determine traits that may be beneficial.

New research indicates that in certain parts of the brain, post-mitotic (non-dividing) cells are taking on as many as one mutation per week across the span of our lives. This results in thousands of genetic variations accumulating in each cell by the time we eventually pass away in old age.

In today’s post we will review new research and consider what this gradual build up of genetic mutations could mean for our understanding of neurodegenerative conditions, like Parkinson’s.


Source: Pexels

Coming from the back waters of third world New Zealand, you will understand that sheep hold a very special place in my heart.

I grew up a simple country lad, and each year I had a pet lamb that I would raise and train to do silly tricks in the hope of impressing the judges at the annual agricultural/farm day at school. In addition to instilling me with a crazy fanaticism for the sport (read: religion) of rugby, my parents figured that having a pet lamb each year would teach me a sense of responsibility and a sort of discipline.

I’m not really sure how this practice has influenced my later life, but I certainly do have very fond memories of those early years (the first lamb was named ‘Woolly’, the 2nd lamb was named ‘Woolly2’, the third lamb was actually a goat – bad lambing season – which I named ‘Billy the kid’, the 4th lamb was named ‘MacGyver’,…).

Lots of happy memories.

Source: Countryliving

But as I grew into the teenage years, there was one thing that really bothered me with regards to my pet lambs.

It was that whole negative stigma associated with the ‘black sheep’.

Why, I would wonder, was it the ‘black sheep of the family’ that was the bad kid? And why was the one black sheep in every flock considered the worst of the bunch?

Source: theodysseyonline

Why was this association applied to sheep?

Why not dogs? Or cows? Why do we pick on sheep?

Continue reading “One black sheep per week”