Episode 7: Genetics as a Guide to Neuroprotection in Parkinson’s Disease

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For decades, most people with Parkinson’s have been able to control symptoms with levodopa and other drugs. But researchers have yet to find a way to protect neurons (brain cells) to slow down or stop progression of Parkinson’s. Dr. David K. Simon discusses how modern genetics can be a guide to developing new drugs that might preserve nerve cells and – ultimately – keep Parkinson’s from progressing. Download

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About this episode

Advances in genetics have opened new windows on possible ways to look at the underlying causes of Parkinson’s (and other) diseases. But what is a gene, anyway? Genes are the basic units of heredity. They contain the instructions for making proteins, which do the work within our cells and bodies. There are several genes associated with Parkinson’s. The most common are LRRK2 and GBA. For more information on Parkinson’s genetics, and genetics in general, check out Genetics Home Reference.

Another concept mentioned in the episode that might be new to you is “biomarker.” Biomarkers, short for biological markers, are characteristics of the body that you can measure. They are important to medicine in general and to drug development in particular. Biomarkers tell us how the body is doing and can help identify disease risk or disease progression.

If you have questions about this or anything else Dr. Simon mentioned, let us know at Parkinson.org/feedback, and we will provide answers in future podcast episodes.

David K. Simon, MD, PhD

Dr. Simon earned MD and PhD degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and completed the Harvard-Longwood Neurology Residency in Boston, followed by a Movement Disorders Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. He then joined the faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School, where he is now a Professor of Neurology. He is the Chief of the Division of Movement Disorders at BIDMC and Director of the Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence at BIDMC.

Dr. Simon is involved in clinical studies as well as laboratory research to study agents that may have neuroprotective effects in Parkinson’s disease. He was a recipient of the George C. Cotzias Award from the American Parkinson Disease Association and has received additional research funding from the American Federation for Aging Research, Parkinson's Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, and two institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). 

Dr. Simon completed a four-year term as a member of the NIH Molecular Neurogenetics study section and currently serves on the NINDS Biospecimen Review Access Committee (PD-BRAC). He is on the Editorial Board for Annals of Neurology. He is a member of the Cure Parkinson Trust’s Linked Clinical Trials Committee and is on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Weston Brain Institute. He also has served as Chair of the Scientific Review Committee of the Parkinson’s Study Group (PSG) and currently is an elected member of the PSG Executive Committee. 

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