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LCSB coordinates European project on Parkinson’s disease research

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Published on Wednesday, 02 December 2015

The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg is coordinating a European Union project for research into new active compounds against Parkinson’s disease (PD). Systems Medicine of Mitochondrial Parkinson’s Disease (SysMedPD) is the name of the project that just started with the involvement of five universities and three companies from Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and UK.

The EU is funding the researchers of this consortium with a total of 5.9 million euros. With this funding, they will be developing novel techniques by which to identify and research into active compounds against PD. They will furthermore be advancing drug candidates towards their medical application. “Universities and biopharmaceutical companies complement each other’s expertise ideally in SysMedPD,” says Prof. Rudi Balling, LCSB director and coordinator of SysMedPD. “This creates optimal conditions in which to progress a good deal further in developing diagnoses and therapies for Parkinson’s disease.”

For a better understanding of mitochondrial dysfunction

Parkinson’s disease is a gradually progressive disease of human nerve tissue, resulting among other things in muscle tremors and muscle rigidity. The mitochondria of nerve cells are often causally involved in the onset—mitochondria being the power plants of cells, in which biochemical reactions provide energy for cellular metabolic processes.

“We estimate that in about ten to twenty percent of all Parkinson’s patients, their mitochondria do not function properly,” says senior LCSB scientist Dr Ronan Fleming, who is significantly involved in the conception and coordination of SysMedPD. “In order to better diagnose, heal or at least effectively curb the progression of Parkinson’s disease, we must understand this dysfunction of mitochondria in detail.” The researchers within SysMedPD are first concentrating on such patterns of PD in which the mitochondria are damaged by mutations in individual genes. “Later, the results can then be carried over to patient groups in which multiple genes and environmental factors are involved in the onset of PD,” adds Dr Fleming.

Applications are part of the research project

The SysMedPD consortium will tackle this task with different approaches: “At the LCSB, we place emphasis on developing new, computational models by which we can better depict the processes going on inside mitochondria,” Ronan Fleming says. Prof. Jens Schwamborn, head of the LCSB Developmental and Cellular Biology group, describes a complementary approach: “We must verify any computational predictions using experiments. Therefore, in the scope of this EU project, we will also employ advanced cellular models, where skin samples obtained from Parkinson’s disease patients are reprogrammed into living human nerve cells.”

To ensure the research results obtained within SysMedPD are translated into application as quickly as possible, the consortium also has biopharmaceutical companies on board. Their areas of involvement are test development for new active compounds and identification of active compounds. “The project is organised such that the insights that we and the other academic partners gain will complement those of the companies involved very well,” says Prof. Rudi Balling. “With this close connection between public and private research, we can ensure the EU funding, firstly, is employed optimally in the interest of the PD patients and, secondly, will generate economic stimuli. These are important objectives of the EU that we will fulfil here.”

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The SysMedPD partners:

  • Germany: University of Lübeck (Prof. Christine Klein), EURICE – European Research and Project Office GmbH (Corinna Hahn);
  • Ireland: Maynooth University (Dr Niall Finnerty);
  • Luxembourg: University of Luxembourg (Prof. Rudi Balling, Dr Ronan Fleming, Prof. Jens Schwamborn);
  • Netherlands: Leiden University (Prof. Thomas Hankemeier), Khondrion BV (Prof. Jan Smeitink), Mimetas BV (Dr Paul Vulto);
  • Great Britain: University College London (Prof. Anthony Schapira).

Coordinator: Prof. Rudi Balling, LCSB, University of Luxembourg

Photo caption, from left to right: Prof. Jens Schwamborn (head of the LCSB Development and Cell Biology group), Prof. Rudi Balling (LCSB director and coordinator of SysMedPD) and Dr Ronan Fleming (Systems Biochemistry)
© scienceRELATIONS / University of Luxembourg 2015