Deep sea creatures being used to help identify Parkinson’s disease

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Bioengineers are using a new gene editing system and glow in the dark sea creatures to advance the fight against Parkinson’s disease. 

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

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

Helen Michaelson says, “Sometimes you get so overwhelmed as far as being tired. 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 Parkinsons. 

Levi Adams, doctoral student at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences explains, “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. 

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

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

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

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.
 

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