It will be the first time in Scotland that crowdfunding has been used to help fund drug discovery research, and the first crowdfunding attempt worldwide to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. The campaign is being led by Parkure’s chief executive, Dr Lysimachos Zografos, 32, an Athens-born research associate at the University of Edinburgh.
"Parkinson’s affects one per cent of people over the age of 60, as well as people as young as 20. It can currently only be treated by drugs which simply relieve symptoms such as tremors, slowed movement and mood disorders, and often cause unpleasant side effects," Zografos says."The biology of Parkinson’s disease is complex and that’s why, despite many scientific advances, there’s still no cure. The technology is innovative as we want to use fruit flies affected by Parkinson’s disease to find drugs that will actually reverse the degeneration going on in the brain."
"By testing on high numbers of fruit flies that have been genetically engineered to develop Parkinson’s, we can identify the drugs that reverse the symptoms and begin detailed biochemical studies on them," he explains.
“The crowdfunding will kick-start this process but, more importantly, it will allow us to massively upscale our research, so that we can test large numbers of drugs on fruit flies, in a much shorter space of time than we could with mice.”
"Every hour, someone in the UK is told they have Parkinson's, so every piece of research into a potential cure is vital," says Edinburgh Science Triangle chairman Malcolm Bateman.
"Edinburgh has a track record in medical innovation stretching back centuries including insulin (1922), penicillin (1928), the Hepatitis B vaccine (1978) and the MRI scanner (1980) – so we're hugely hopeful that Parkure might follow in this legacy with their Parkinson's research."
Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition caused by the lack of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Its three main symptoms are tremor, muscle stiffness and slowness of movement. Without dopamine people can find that their movements become slower so it takes longer to do things. This can make everyday activities, such as eating, getting dressed, or using a phone or computer, difficult or frustrating. In addition to these ‘motor’ symptoms, Parkinson’s also has severe ‘non-motor’ symptoms including a form of dementia, anxiety and depression.
According to Zografos, the Parkure research is limited only by manpower and funding, and he hopes to test up to 10,000 drug compounds per year, which would otherwise take years using mice. Nerve cells in fruit flies act in similar ways to those of humans, and Edinburgh is now set to become a centre for this research which is used all over the world.
“The method we want to use is known as ‘repurposing’ because the drugs we test are already known and used in the market,” says Zografos. “This means, that for successful drugs, there can be a quick route from lab trials to market which will benefit not only people who have Parkinson’s and their families, but anyone who has supported the crowdfunding campaign.”
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About Parkinson’s disease:
Parkinson’s disease costs the NHS almost £2 billion every year. The aging population will only increase this burden.
Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years. This is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra which leads to a reduction in dopamine. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating movement of the body, and a reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which include involuntary shaking, slow movement and stiff, inflexible muscles.
Exactly what causes the loss of nerve cells is unclear. Most experts think that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease which, in the UK, affects one in every 500 people.
Currently, the only drug which effectively treats the symptoms of Parkinson’s is Levodopa which was developed in the 1960s and can have unpleasant side effects.