Research Update

Launching “Here for a Cure”

June 2023

We are always looking for better ways to engage with our supporters and subscribers in new ways and to share information about advances in Parkinson’s research from around the world. Thus, we are thrilled to launch our new series of YouTube webcasts titled “Here for a Cure”. Over the coming months, we will bring a series of discussions with various experts in research and therapy for Parkinson’s to our YouTube channel. In the first of these, our CEO Daniel talks to Professor Maurice Curtis from the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research about the latest therapeutic strategies for Parkinson’s disease presented at the AD/PD meeting help in Gothenburg, Sweden at the end of March.

Professor Curtis talked about the protein alpha-synuclein, which is known to be associated with the development of Parkinson’s disease. He told us how this protein, which is normally involved in communication between neurons and other important cellular functions, becomes modified in Parkinson’s causing it to misfold. The change in shape of this important protein then leads to dysfunction of cells, with certain neurons (including the dopamine-producing neurons that are involved in control of movement, and which are lost in Parkinson’s) being particularly susceptible to this dysfunction. Professor Curtis also talked about how an ability to detect misfolded alpha-synuclein in tissues like skin and other organs outside the brain could give us the opportunity to intervene long before loss of dopamine neurons in the brain—a kind of “canary in the mine”.

There are a number of therapeutic approaches targeting alpha-synuclein currently being investigated, including immunotherapies, such as have been recently successfully used in various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease (preliminary results). Immunotherapy targeting alpha-synuclein is an exciting area of research, aiming to use the body’s own immune system to remove misfolded and potentially toxic alpha-synuclein. Professor Curtis also talked about a novel and perhaps complementary therapeutic approach coming from the opposite angle: replacement of “normally shaped” alpha-synuclein to make up for any deficits in this important (for cellular functions) protein caused by its misfolding and clumping together. Ultimately, combinations of these therapies may prove valuable in people living with Parkinson’s disease.

The importance of identifying patients early and having objective biomarkers to track progression were also discussed, with loss of smell and REM sleep behaviour disorder being recognized as very early symptoms that are frequently seen in individuals who go on to develop Parkinson’s. Getting treatments into people with these symptoms, based on screening programs such as those used in various cancers, could potentially stop progression to full-blown Parkinson’s, with the disease being held in check. Other approaches, such as gene therapies and editing for those with a strong genetic component contributing to their disease, are also on the horizon.

We look forward to seeing Professor Curtis’s team’s most recent research published in international journals (two studies supported by Cure Parkinson’s NZ are currently under review by journals) and to seeing him and others from the CBR at our fundraising dinner in August!

You can see the full 30-min video here:


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