March 26, 2024

Fat in the brain could be key to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, says researcher

Fat in the brain may hold the key to understanding how Parkinson’s disease works, according to a University of Alberta researcher heading up a project aimed at discovering new mechanisms that drive the disease.

Maria Ioannou, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and Canada Research Chair in Brain Lipid Cell Biology, and her team will explore how changes to lipids in the brain contribute to Parkinson’s.

Lipids are fatty substances such as cholesterol and oils in the body that are crucial for brain function, as the organ contains the second largest amount of lipids found in humans. The cellular substance also forms part of the structure of cells and works as a signalling molecule and antioxidant in the brain.

“Until recently we lacked the ability to study lipids in the same way we have for proteins,” says Ioannou.

“We’ve always known that lipids are just as important, and now that tool advancement is catching up, it’s reinvigorated the field and there’s a lot to do.”

To study lipids in cells at the ground level, Ioannou’s lab uses cells cultured from rodents and Parkinson’s disease patients. This allows them to modulate lipids to recreate the environment these cells experience in the diseased brain.

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