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New AU research has the perspective to stop Parkinson's disease

The Lundbeck Foundation is giving DKK 10 million to a new research project at Aarhus University which will study critical calcium changes in the nerve cells that are expected to occur patients with Parkinson's disease.

Professor, dr.med. Poul Henning Jensen. Foto: AU Foto.
Professor, dr.med. Poul Henning Jensen. Foto: AU Foto

The Lundbeck Foundation is awarding DKK 10 million to a research project at Aarhus University which will examine the significance of newly discovered calcium changes in nerve cells in connection with Parkinson's disease. The aim of the research is to understand the early events in the nerve cells that eventually lead to the disease and identify mechanisms herein that can be targeted by novel medicine.

The research project is being led by Poul Henning Jensen, professor at the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University and the DANDRITE research centre. The Lundbeck Foundation are funding the research project over a five-year period.

"The Lundbeck Foundation's vision is to create a better life through new knowledge, and Poul Henning Jensen's project involves providing completely new and fundamental knowledge about Parkinson's disease, so that we gain a better understanding of the disease mechanisms and, based in this, the opportunity for better treatment than previously," says Anne-Marie Engel, director of research at the Lundbeck Foundation.


Calcium loss alters cells
Nerve cells die in the brains of Parkinson's patients, which has been the starting point for a large part of the previous research. However, Poul Henning Jensen is taking a few steps back. He says:

"We have discovered that an otherwise natural protein in the brain, alpha-synuclein, clumps together and builds up in the cells long before the nerve cells die. We do not know much about how the protein affects the nerve cells. But we recently discovered that it activates a calcium pump (SERCA) inside the cell. This means that the calcium disappears from the cell liquid and in our project we will investigate the importance of this discovery."


Poul Henning Jensen has carried out experiments which have shown that if the reduction in calcium can be avoided, then the cell is protected so that it does not degenerate and die. This indicates that it is possible to stop the development of a range of Parkinson's symptoms by inhibiting the calcium pump, or processes initiated by its abnormal activation.


"Our findings indicate that there is an as yet unknown phase in the life of the nerve cells in connection with Parkinson's disease. It is too early to say anything about whether medicine could be developed based on the discovery, but we expect to have completed experiments on mice within a year that will show whether there is potential for this," says Poul Henning Jensen.

The research project, which is called DaCAPO: “Decisive early calcium changes in Parkinson’s disease”, begins in 2017.



Professor, MD, DMSC Poul Henning Jensen
The DANDRITE Research Centre, Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University
Direct: (+45) 2899 2056
Email: phj@biomed.au.dk 

Director of Research Anne-Marie Engel
The Lundbeck Foundation
Direct: (+45) 2738 6059
Email: ame@lundbeckfonden.com