Prion Science and Neurodegenerative Disease
Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science continues to expand its research portfolio and increase its impact in the field of Parkinson’s disease research. The Center recently appointed Dr. Jiyan Ma, whose laboratory studies prions, the misfolded proteins associated with many contagious neurodegenerative diseases, and Dr. Darren Moore, who studies the role of the LRRK2 gene found in hereditary Parkinson’s disease. These two accomplished scientists are focused on specific, nuanced areas of Parkinson’s disease research that have far-reaching implications for the way the disease is viewed and treated.
A native of Shanghai, Ma attended Shanghai Medical College and received his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As professor and head of the Laboratory of Prion Mechanisms in Neurodegeneration at Van Andel Research Institute, Ma aims to develop disease-modifying therapeutics that combat the degenerative qualities of Parkinson’s disease. His research also focuses on how misfolded proteins like alpha-synuclein are linked to the spread of Parkinson’s disease in the brain, and the relationship between prions and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Deadly Prions Connect Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Related Diseases
Ma’s previous research delved into prions’ role in contagious neurodegenerative diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) and its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Ma shares the emerging view that there is a connection between the way prions spread contagious neurodegenerative diseases and how they propagate Parkinson’s disease within the human brain.
Like Ma, Dr. Darren Moore is studying a very significant yet specialized area of Parkinson’s disease. Moore’s research is centered on a gene called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) and its role in hereditary Parkinson’s disease.
Moore’s research will continue to focus on investigating gene products associated with inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease, including the LRRK2 as well as other novel genes associated with the disease. His lab plans on utilizing a series of unique disease modeling strategies to better understand how these specific proteins contribute to neurodegeneration in the human brain.
Since its creation in 2011, the Center has experienced impressive growth under Brundin’s leadership. Ma and Moore’s targeted approaches to neurodegenerative disease research will enhance the portfolio of Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science and provide fertile ground for the development of new, innovative therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease.
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Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease. The scientific name for prion disease is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.