A multi-million dollar research award is the “opportunity of a lifetime” to increase our understanding of Parkinson’s disease, according to a University of Dundee expert.
Professor Dario Alessi says that the $9 million, three-year award from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative will have a transformative impact on Parkinson’s research at the University and the quest to develop new therapies and treatments.
Professor Alessi will lead a team at Dundee’s MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC-PPU), linking up with counterparts at Stanford University in the United States. The Dundee-Stanford team will now join an international network funded by the ASAP initiative, in partnership with The Michael J. Fox Foundation, to generate new knowledge in Parkinson’s disease.
Professor Alessi, Director of the MRC-PPU, said, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime as a Parkinson’s disease researcher. This ASAP Initiative award will enable us to recruit new talented researchers to Dundee and to be part of one of the biggest initiatives in history to accelerate understanding of the origins of Parkinson’s disease, embracing high-quality and fully open and interdisciplinary collaboration. It is also a major step towards our goal of creating a world-leading Parkinson’s Research Centre at the University of Dundee.”
Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and, at present, there is no cure.
Much of the research undertaken by Professor Alessi over the last 15 years has focused on understanding how mutations in a protein kinase called LRRK2 can lead to higher susceptibility to Parkinson’s. His team have made seminal advances in recent years, including the discovery of the physiological targets of LRRK2 called Rab GTPase proteins. The new programme will see the Dundee-Stanford team investigate the role LRRK2 plays in controlling compartments of the cell that appear to be vulnerable in Parkinson’s neurons. These studies may expand understanding of which Parkinson’s patients would benefit most from the LRRK2 inhibitors that are in development, as well as leading to new ideas for treating Parkinson’s.
A particular feature of the ASAP initiative is that collaboration between teams and open science will be promoted to stimulate faster research progress. Professor Alessi’s research programme has already collaborated with Professor Suzanne Pfeffer’s lab in Stanford for several years on the mechanisms of LRRK2 biology, as well as with his Dundee colleague Professor Miratul Muqit. Monther Abu-Remaileh, also based at Stanford, will bring critical new expertise in lysosome biology to the team.
Professor Muqit added, “I am delighted to join the ASAP network and am looking forward to working with Dario and colleagues at Stanford and beyond to make fundamental breakthroughs into how LRRK2 regulates mitochondrial function and how this may be linked to other Parkinson’s pathways. Parkinson’s has been a challenging disease to find treatments for and I believe that this exciting collaborative initiative offers the best chance of achieving this”.
The University of Dundee is highly regarded as a centre for Parkinson’s research, and in 2018 Professor Alessi received the MJFF’s Langston Award for “service and dedication to our shared goals of advancing Parkinson’s understanding and therapeutic development.”