NWPF

News ArchivesRead News

Biology professor studies leeches for clues to Parkinson's

Thursday September 24, 2009

Mara Kumagai Fink

St. Olaf College News - When most people think of leeches, they envision blood-sucking creatures that attack during summer swims or are found among similarly slimy creatures in bait shops. But when St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp looks at leeches, he sees a key to unlocking the mysteries of Parkinson’s disease.

Crisp recently received a $45,000 grant to study how dopamine affects the neurons in leech cells that trigger movement. In simpler terms, he’s researching how a leech decides to move.

Although a simple leech brain may seem far removed from the complex human brain, the basic principles by which both leeches and humans make decisions is very similar. Figuring out how dopamine makes neural circuits turn out the appropriate movement at the appropriate time in a leech could help in human research as well.

Although it is nearly impossible to find out which neurons trigger certain actions in humans who are making a straightforward decision such as what to eat for dinner, leeches have a simpler development that makes it easier to pinpoint which cells do what.

Crisp hopes that the information he’s gathering in the study will someday be transferrable to Parkinson’s patients. Parkinson’s disease occurs because there is a decreased amount of dopamine in the brain. General practice for treating Parkinson’s is to increase the amount of dopamine in a person’s brain. But nobody is sure how the dopamine actually works at the neuron level.

“The doctors who are administering the management are sort of cheating. We’re sort of shooting in the dark here,” Crisp says. “We know you throw dopamine at a system in sufficient quantities and the disease becomes manageable; we just don’t know how or why, so we’re trying to figure that ‘why’ bit out.”

For this research Crisp also is working with a lab at the University of Minnesota and one at the University of California at San Diego. He also worked with student Brian Gallagher ’09 in the summer of 2008 on a similar project.

Although the research is still in its early stages and is far from ready to transfer to humans, Crisp hopes that it can shed some light on the reasons for the successful use of dopamine on Parkinson’s patients. “It’s possible that we’ll raise some insights into ways to improve the technology. We might at least finally be able to explain something that we’ve observed for 50 years,” he says.

Recent News

Sep 12 - Australian Researchers Develop New Diagnostic Tool to Spot Early Signs of Parkinson’s
Sep 11 - GeneFo Webinar to Focus on Using Humor to Manage Parkinson’s Disease
Sep 6 - Parkinson’s and the ‘D’ word
Sep 6 - Compounds in Asthma Drugs Might Be Used as Parkinson’s Treatment
Sep 5 - AstraZeneca Joins Takeda, Berg to Advance Development of Parkinson’s Disease Therapies
Sep 1 - Stem Cell Transplant Trial in Parkinson’s Patients Planned After Test in Japan Succeeds in Monkeys
Sep 1 - Titan to Start Phase 1/2 Study of Subdermal Implant to Deliver Requip to Parkinson’s Patients
Aug 30 - FDA Refuses Acorda’s Inbrija New Drug Application Due to Manufacturing Questions
Aug 23 - Support Groups: Are They for You?
Aug 22 - Internet Visits with Parkinson’s Specialist Can Be as Effective as In-person Visits, Trial Finds
Aug 21 - Cavion’s New CMO to Lead Cav3 Platform Development for Neurological Diseases
Aug 15 - Singing Helps Early-stage Parkinson’s Patients Retain Speech, Respiratory Control, Studies Show
Aug 14 - 16 Tips to Increase Your Mobility Confidence While Living With Parkinson’s Disease
Aug 10 - Boxers are fighting back against Parkinson’s
Aug 9 - Parkinson’s Experiment to Be Aboard Next Flight to International Space Station
Aug 9 - Parkinson’s Disease and Sleeping with the Enemy
Aug 7 - The Importance of Oral Health in Parkinson’s Disease
Aug 7 - Researchers Gain Better Insight Into Alpha-Synuclein’s Role in Parkinson’s Disease
Jul 31 - New Digital Cognitive Assessment Tool Receives Positive FDA Review
Jul 20 - Parkinson’s DREAM Challenge Uses Mobile Sensor Data to Monitor Health Based on Movement