Fish with Parkinson's uncover life-improving drugs

April 11, 2017

In a world first, scientists have replicated Parkinson’s disease in a zebrafish — and in doing so found drugs that restored movement in the laboratory animal.

The Australian researchers from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research said it brought new hope to sufferers on World Parkinson’s Disease Day.

They expect it will be the first of many diseases to be modelled in zebrafish, which can offer faster results than mice research.

The research has been published in the journal, Cell Chemical Biology.

“For us this was a major discovery that capped several years of hard work,” said Dr Daniel Hesselson, laboratory head at the Garvan Institute.

Dr Hesselson and about 10 researchers gave zebrafish genetic mutations and potential environmental factors associated with Parkinson’s, including a pesticide.

“[This] allowed us to perform a high-throughput drug screening to identify new potential therapies,” he said.

The zebrafish’s externally fertilised eggs make them more accessible for researchers, and the fish shows brain cell loss in days — compared to a year in mice, and decades in some Parkinson’s sufferers.

Researchers tried 1,000 drug treatments and found three drugs that restored normal movement to the fish.

“We looked at one of the drugs more closely and found that it acted by helping to recycle the energy production centre inside the cell,” Dr Hesselson said.

“And this prevented the loss of the dopamine-producing neurons in the zebrafish.”

He said there was potential for those drugs to be modified for human use, or for others to be developed.

‘It came out of the blue’

About 80,000 Australians are estimated to be living with Parkinson’s disease.

Clyde Campbell was just 44 when he was diagnosed with the progressive and degenerative neurological condition.

“It come out of the blue for myself,” he said.

Determined to help others and himself, Mr Campbell started the advocacy group Shake it Up.

Shake it Up promotes research in the area of the disease, such as at the Garvan Institute.

Mr Campbell said while he suffered mainly from tremors, the condition can cause a host of conditions, including dementia, depression, slowness of movement, stiffness of the limbs and postural instability.

“And the ability to do many tasks are taken away from them,” he said.

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