Irish Parkinson's disease researchers get €267,523 funding from actor Michael J Fox's foundation

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 (Ian West/PA)

Eilish O’Regan

A foundation set up by Hollywood actor Michael J Fox has given €267,523 ($300,000) to Irish researchers looking at a novel therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

The actor, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 29 in 1991, set up the foundation to find a cure for the disease.

A team at NUI Galway will benefit from the funding to look at the role of brain repair for Parkinson’s which  involves replacing these dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells back into the brain.

The widespread roll-out of this therapy has been hindered by the poor survival of the implanted cells.

Parkinson’s is a condition that primarily affects a person’s ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability. The symptoms of the condition are caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells that regulate movement.

Dr Eilís Dowd’s research team at NUI Galway have already demonstrated that the survival of the cells was dramatically improved when they were implanted into the brain within a supportive gel made from the natural material collagen.

The funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow Dr Dowd to take this research to the next level where she will test if the collagen gel can also improve the survival of healthy brain cells generated from adult stem cells.

Dr Dowd said: “In our previous research published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, we showed that collagen provides the cells with a nurturing, supportive environment in the brain and helps them to survive the aversive transplant process.

“This funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow us to test if this approach can also improve survival and reparative ability of healthy brain cells derived from adult stem cells. If so, this could lead to a dramatic improvement in brain repair approaches for Parkinson’s – a field that has been hampered for years by poor transplant survival.”

The research will be led by Dr Eilís Dowd, in collaboration with colleagues from the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, and University of Edinburgh.

Dr Dowd’s ongoing research in this field featured in the short documentary Feats of Modest Valour which won the coveted Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York, as well as the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Festival in California.