Fighting Parkinson’s with deep sea shrimp & CRISPR

Published: Updated:
Screenshot taken via Ivanhoe Newswire video

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease that causes tremors, muscle rigidity and restricted mobility. There is no cure, but the search is on for new drugs that can halt the disease in its tracks.

Bioengineers in Central Florida are the first in the U.S. to use a new cutting- edge technique that may pave the way for very early stage treatments.

One million Americans are living with Parkinson’s and for many, current medications don’t always control the side effects and tremors.

“They’ve affected me since I was in my thirties,” said Harriet Marksfield.

“Sometimes you get so overwhelmed as far as being tired,” said Helen Michaelson. “You just can’t go anymore.”

Researchers at the University of Central Florida are using new technology to develop a screening tool. A gene editing system called CRISPR allows them to “light up” a protein in the brain associated with Parkinson’s.

Levi Adams, a Doctoral Student at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, said, “In this study we are working with a protein that was actually isolated from nature. It’s very similar to something you can find in a firefly, when fireflies light up.”

In this case, scientists used deep sea shrimp, which also have the same ability to glow in the dark. Using the CRISPR system, scientists inserted the deep sea shrimp gene into human cells in the lab so they could more easily measure changes in the Parkinson’s protein.

“The expression of this protein goes up in cases of Parkinson’s disease which leads to the subsequent, degenerative process,” said Sambuddha Basu, PhD, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

Using the engineered cells, scientists can also screen new drugs to see if they lower the protein level in patients.

“This is the first step in allowing us to identify potential treatments for this disease,” Adams said.

The CRISPR system allows researchers to change the DNA of plants and animals, without killing cells, and with faster results. CRISPR is being used more frequently in the study of genetic treatments for diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Jesse Draus, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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