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Parkinson's Research: Keeping the research fires burning

For Parkinson's Awareness Week 2017 (10-16 April), we're publishing a series of blogs throughout the week which will provide unique insights into Parkinson's from a range of perspectives - from those living with Parkinson's to the researchers & clinicians dedicated to developing better treatments.

I can remember vividly the day I decided I wanted to spend my career studying disorders like Parkinson’s. I was in a lecture at university and the professor had told us that we had known about Parkinson’s for over a century, and yet we still didn’t know what caused brain cells to die in Parkinson’s or why it only affects some people. It was an inspirational moment in my life, a match was struck that has fuelled my research for the past 13 years.

"To me, the brain remains the most fascinating structure on the planet"

My research journey began in 2004 when I came to Newcastle to begin my PhD studies, investigating how failing batteries within our brain cells might contribute to their loss in Parkinson’s. Much of my research then and today centres around describing changes that occur in the brain cells of people who are affected by Parkinson’s. Often, to do this I use post mortem brain samples.

VIDEO CREDIT: Parkinson's UK YouTube Channel - Published on May 18, 2016
Dr Amy Reeve from Newcastle University discusses the power of mitochondria (your cell's energy packs) and their importance in current Parkinson’s science.

To me, the brain remains the most fascinating structure on the planet. It allows us to perform the most wonderful array of tasks simply by transferring electricity between cells. While post mortem samples are invaluable, as time as gone on researchers have had to find new ways to model the changes that occur in Parkinson’s. These new ways allow us to study these changes over time. These models include using brain cells grown in the laboratory and mouse models. The other advantage to using these models is that we can easily make changes to the cells and study how they respond. For example part of my research wants to understand what happens if we simply increase the number of batteries in brain cells. So I can grow brain cells and use chemicals to stimulate the production of new batteries and study the effect that this has on the health of the brain cells.

"Each day involves a new experiment and the collection of a new piece of data which I hope one day will contribute to a treatment to stop the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s"

Following my PhD, I continued to work on the same research and have built my own research group. Together we work to understand how different aspects of the batteries within our brain cells may be changed in Parkinson’s. Ultimately by understanding the ‘ins and outs’ of these aspects we might be able to find new drugs which help protect brain cells in Parkinson’s. For example, we look at how the batteries move within our brain cells, and how they are distributed within these cells. We are also studying the pathway which controls the production of new batteries, and what happens if we stimulate this pathway in brain cells. Does the brain cell make functional batteries, or will they be failing too?

VIDEO CREDIT: Parkinson's UK YouTube Channel - Published on January 12, 2015
Q&A with Parkinson's researcher: Dr Amy Reeve

Each day involves a new experiment and the collection of a new piece of data which I hope one day will contribute to a treatment to stop the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s. The match is still burning, even if sometimes the burning is more of a smoulder. However I have found a way to keep the match burning brightly.

Over the past 3 years I have been lucky enough to meet many people who are affected by Parkinson’s, their stories and views on my research have fanned the flames.

Dr Amy Reeve
Parkinson’s UK Research Fellow
Newcastle University



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    6th September 2017

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