How One Researcher Collaborates to Better Understand Parkinson’s

Meet the Researcher: Jean-Christophe RochetEarly in his career, funding from the Parkinson’s Foundation set researcher Jean-Christophe Rochet, PhD, on a path to understanding the role of alpha synuclein, a key protein in the brain linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD). The death of neurons in the brain (known as neuronal loss) is a defining trait of Parkinson’s and is thought to involve oxidative stress and the clustering of alpha synuclein. 

Now Director of the Institute for Integrative Neuroscience and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University, Dr. Rochet looks back at how this early work helped establish a path to understanding the mechanisms inherent to neuronal loss and dysfunction. These findings have been critical in the development of new therapeutic strategies.

“I can trace back to the Parkinson's Foundation how those early grants helped build a cell culture model in my lab, which became attractive to other groups,” Dr. Rochet said. “That first Parkinson’s Foundation grant allowed us to develop and optimize an important cell model of alpha synuclein neurotoxicity, that then became the basis of many of our initial publications. It was a very important project because it really set up key systems.”

Building on cross-institutional collaboration with colleagues across the country, Rochet’s lab has contributed to further understanding of Parkinson’s Disease over the past decade. This collaborative approach has led to breakthroughs in understanding the mechanisms of Parkinson’s and a radical transformation in screening processes for Parkinson’s-related genes, which could lead to the development of early therapeutic options.

Research lab brain“There's no doubt that there’s been a tremendous explosion of knowledge not only around aspects of Parkinson's, but also in understanding that Parkinson's really exists as multiple disease subtypes. We have to think about personalized approaches, not just a one size fits all therapeutic strategy,” Dr. Rochet explained. “We have a lot more tools at our disposal to accomplish some of these therapeutic goals. The last few years have seen remarkable technological advances, along with a greater understanding of individual proteins, such as alpha synuclein, plus a greater understanding of all the different pathways involved. I think that gives good reason for hope.”

Recently, Dr. Rochet has seen his involvement with the Parkinson’s Foundation come full-circle when a member of his lab received a Visiting Scholar Award from the Foundation. While small in scale, this funding allows for the type of cross-institutional collaboration that has been so key to Dr. Rochet’s own career success, allowing young investigators to learn new techniques and help disseminate learning across labs. “One of my students was able to receive one of those awards, which allowed my lab at a later stage to move in a completely new direction that has really taken the field by storm.” 

This most recently funded research explores a form of alpha synuclein clusters and their behavior when injected into the brain.

“It's a very important mechanism that we really need to be thinking about, but I didn't want to move into that direction until I had an expert lab show us exactly how to work with that system,” Dr. Rochet said. “The data that we've collected led to numerous new [grant] awards. Tracing it back to the same theme as what happened early in my career, it really enabled us to move to a new direction with nothing to start with. Those key pieces of funding are really critical to get a start in new research areas.”

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