We know that, in Parkinson’s, the batteries that power our cells don’t work as well as they should. It’s now up to researchers to find drugs that target these dysfunctioning batteries, known as mitochondria, and protect the nerve cells from energy failure and death.

Image for post
Image for post

A chance discovery

It takes a lot of power for our brains to work properly. Making up just 2% of our total body weight, they use 20% of all the body’s energy reserves. So out of all the organs in the body, the brain is particularly reliant on the work of the tiny batteries found in every cell — the mitochondria.

It’s perhaps not surprising then that many neurodegenerative conditions have been linked to mitochondria going wrong. And Parkinson’s is no exception.

It was a freak incident in 1982 that gave the first clue that mitochondrial dysfunction may be linked to Parkinson’s. People who had taken heroin suddenly lost the ability to speak or move, appearing “frozen”. The symptoms were reversed by levodopa. It turned out it was a contaminated batch of heroin, containing the chemical MPTP. This man-made chemical was taken up by dopamine-producing brain cells and attacked the mitochondria, cutting off the cell’s energy supply. …

Science has never been so prolific. As technology advances, researchers around the world are producing new data at record rates. While this is good news for science, it does pose a problem — is it even humanly possible to make sense of all this data? Step forward artificial intelligence…

Image for post
Image for post
> Image by Ag Ku from Pixabay

According to The Economist, scientific output doubles every nine years. This is a lot of data to wade through before finding the golden ticket to a new treatment or the cause of a disease.

To cope with this ever-increasing mountain of data, researchers are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help — Parkinson’s UK has partnered with the AI company, BenevolentAI, to drive forward Parkinson’s research.

What do we mean by artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence refers to a computer system or programme with behaviours we would associate with human intelligence. …

We know that a high protein diet can affect levodopa absorption. But what does this mean for people with Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s develops when cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time. These brain cells produce a chemical called dopamine. Symptoms start to appear when the brain can’t make enough dopamine to control movement properly.

Levodopa is an amino acid first discovered in the 1960s. Today, it is still one of the main drugs used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms at all stages of the condition. It works by replacing dopamine lost in the brain.

Why not just take dopamine?

In theory, the simplest way to treat Parkinson’s would be to directly replace the dopamine lost via supplements. But, there’s a complication. Dopamine itself is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier — a natural barrier that protects the brain from bacteria and viruses that may be in the blood. …


Lynn Duffy

Scientific copy writer @ParkinsonsUK. Lover of tea. Views are my own

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store