Griffith University 2020 Update

Griffith University 2020 Update

Covid-19 has posed many challenges for universities in general and for research laboratories, in particularly. And while we worked through a period of restricted access to our research laboratories, our Parkinson’s disease research staff and students transitioned well to either fully or partially working from home. We are now pleased to be working with lessened restrictions under a COVID-19 safe model with more of our researchers back in the lab. Despite the COVID-19 related setbacks of this year, we’ve had the following successes, which we wish to share with you.

(1) Biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease project. We’ve made significant progress in our efforts to identify symptom-independent biomarkers for PD. We developed an assay where we expose individual patient’s cells to stress and measure the response using high content microscopy. We’ve now screened all our Parkinson’s disease (PD) cell lines (52) and Controls (54) and identified disease-specific responses in a subset of the Parkinson’s cell lines. One potential biomarker is highly expressed in around 25% of PD patients and the high expression level clearly separated this group from the other (75%) PD patients, as well as Controls. We hypothesis that this biomarker may reflect a different molecular cause of, or response to, Parkinson’s in this subset of patients. We propose this information may be useful to clinicians in their diagnosis. Further, we may be able to screen the cells we have in hand to identify new drug compounds which restore the level of this biomarker to Control levels. This is consistent with the hypothesis that PD can arise from different mechanisms in patients. This project forms the basis of several new grant applications that are currently in submission to funding sources (NHMRC and Michael J Fox Foundation). It is also the subject of a new PhD project undertaken by Ms Melissa Hill.

(2) Queensland Parkinson’s Project. We have developed a series of webpages for our Queensland Parkinson’s Project (QPP) as a first step in creating a Griffith Parkinson’s disease platform. This platform will be used to share information about Parkinson’s disease and how our research aims fit in with the current questions surrounding its development, early identification and treatment improvements. It allows those interested to participate directly online where they will be linked to our newly created database to complete the surveys. It also provides students and other researchers to approach us more easily if they want to contribute or collaborate. The results of our research efforts will also be more accessible through short summaries of our publications and most recent conference presentations. The webpages will be launched in September.

From the QPP we have also published 2 manuscripts with a third one currently under revision. The first paper discusses the current pitfalls in the search for future treatments and prevention of Parkinson’s disease. The second paper is about deep brain stimulation. The third paper reports on 20 years of QPP, more specifically mortality rates in PD in Queenslanders. The QPP has led to an industry grant application with Parkinson’s Queensland Inc and Queensland Health aiming to look at the prevalence of PD, in regional areas of Queensland.

Like many groups, our research funding has taken a hit in 2020. The immediate and major consequence of which has been the loss of our two postdoctoral researchers at the end of June. Despite this, both continue to contribute to the group writing manuscripts and grant applications. Our immediate concern is to secure alternative sources of funding to maintain the momentum we’ve built over the past few years.

The group published 16 scientific papers in the past 12 months, with several more currently under review at journals. Our NHMRC Ideas grant application was again rated highly, but unfortunately not in the 10% funded. We have submitted a two NHMRC Ideas and two Michael J Fox Foundation grants in 2020. We also have sent several submissions to philanthropic foundations.

The continued support of the Aegium Foundation has been critical in ensuring that we keep momentum in this difficult research environment and maintain progress towards a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease, a condition affecting >100,000 Australians and for which there is no cure.