My PD Story

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Onur Basak, PhD

Insights Into Brain’s Dopamine System Could Yield New Parkinson’s Treatments

Onur Basak, PhD, of University Medical Center Utrecht - Translational Neuroscience Utrecht, Netherlands, received a Parkinson’s Foundation George G. Kaufman Impact Award to investigate the role of histones (a type of protein found in chromosomes that bind to DNA) in the development and progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD). This research will yield insights into the dopamine system in the brain that may lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s.

Despite decades of research, we still do not know exactly how Parkinson’s disease develops. A major hallmark of the disease is the loss of brain nerve cells called dopaminergic neurons in two regions of the midbrain. These nerve cells produce the brain chemical dopamine. In people with Parkinson’s, the cells that make dopamine are impaired. Current treatment for loss of motor symptoms focuses on dopamine but cannot offer a cure.

“There is a great need for new therapeutic targets for PD. Our research provides a new perspective that has the potential to implicate new molecular processes that can be ‘hijacked’ for therapeutic approaches in the long run,” said Dr. Basak.

Evidence shows that a biochemical process called methylation of histones is altered in people with Parkinson’s. However, how this happens is not well understood. Dr. Basak will study histone methylation in different types of dopamine-related neurons as well as neighboring cells that are indispensable for their function.

As part of his research, Dr. Basak will look at the way epigenetics — the processes that help direct when individual genes are turned on or off — affect the progression of Parkinson’s. In the long run, this study will contribute to efforts to discover new drug targets for Parkinson’s treatment. 

“Investing in fundamental research is the key to finding new venues for treatment, and eventually, a cure for PD,” Dr. Basak said. “Highly ambitious projects can only be carried out with the support of donors supporting this vision, as the Parkinson's Foundation does. This grant will give me the opportunity to turn a highly ambitious aim into reality. Since the grant is prestigious, it will also support my integration in the PD community.”

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