Scientists develop a new approach for Parkinson’s disease therapy

Arrin Carter, a second year student in the MD/PhD program, worked with Elmer Price, PhD, during one of her research rotations. The results, which could eventually lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, were recently published.
Last year, Dr. Elmer Price, a professor of biological sciences at Marshall University, was awarded a three-year, $350,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation.

ElmerPriceandResearchersThe grant funds his research into understanding neurogenesis, the process adult brains use to generate new neurons from preexisting adult neural stem cells. Price and his student researchers have now discovered a way to recruit these adult neural stem cells into regions of the brain which typically lack the ability to replenish neurons. Their findings have tremendous therapeutic potential for cases of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Price and researchers Amanda Clark, Arrin Carter and Lydia Hager have published their research in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Stem Cells and Development.

Their discovery is based on the fact that the adult brain has its own supply of adult neural stem cells. These stem cells are only found in two specific regions of the adult brain. Price’s lab has developed a way to actually steer these neural stem cells away from their usual location and into a new region of the brain that typically is unable to regenerate new neurons.

They accomplished this by making small cylinders out of a mixture of biologically-compatible materials, and then surgically implanting these cylinders into the brain. Price’s study revealed that, over time, the adult neural stem cells used the cylindrical implant as a new pathway and subsequently migrated along this path into a new region of the brain.

The Marshall researchers also found that these cylinder implants reversed the Parkinson’s-like behavior in rats who had an experimentally-induced version of the disease, suggesting the neural cells that responded to the implant were able to replace neurons lost in Parkinson’s disease.

“We are pretty excited about this work for a number of reasons,” said Price. “It describes a totally new approach for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and we predict that this approach will also be useful in cases of stroke or traumatic brain injury; however, those studies have yet to be completed. This paper is the product of many years of work and hopefully is the first of a number of important findings regarding this unique approach. This is just the beginning of a long process; we are very, very far from moving this into humans but this paper is a critical first step.”

One key feature of Price’s approach is that the implants make use of the brain’s preexisting stem cells; once reduced to practice, a patient’s own neural stem cells would be harnessed for targeted brain repair.

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Photo: Dr. Elmer Price is shown with researchers, from left, Lydia Hager, Arrin Carter and Amanda Clark. Photo by Rick Haye/Marshall University.

Contact: Dave Wellman, Director of Communications, 304-696-7153

Welcome new med. sci. students!

Twelve Biomedical Sciences (BMS) MS, Medical Sciences emphasis (med. sci.) students recently attended orientation. Uma Sundaram, MD, Vice Dean Biomedical Sciences Research and Education, Todd Green, PhD, Co-Director Biomedical Sciences, and Richard Egleton, PhD, Co-Director Biomedical Sciences offered a welcome and program overview. After course introductions and a Q&A with Cynthia Warren, Assistant Dean of Admissions, MU School of Medicine, there was a picnic at Ritter Park sponsored by the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) for all new and returning students.

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These awesome students received their undergraduate degrees from as close as Marshall University and as far away as University of California–Riverside. Among the group, there is a classically trained pianist, a competitive swimmer and competitive baseball player, and fans of soccer, volleyball, and martial arts. Don’t forget the published poet, and the one who may be related to the original Colonel Sanders!

Be sure to welcome our new med. sci. and research students, and see if you can learn their “secret identities” as writers, athletes, and more.

Researcher receives $432,000 grant to study progression of cancer, involve students

The following news story provides different information about Dr. Sollars’ research than the previous one posted on our News page.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Dr. Vincent E. Sollars, an associate professor of biochemistry and microbiology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, has received a $432,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to research a cutting edge concept to fight cancer.

The Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) will fund a three-year project in “epigenetics,” a relatively new concept in cancer therapies that has shown great promise.

“The basic question we are trying to answer is ‘What are the processes that enable a normal cell to start misbehaving and become cancer cells?’” says Sollars.

As he explains, the process that cells undergo to become cancer cells ultimately produces a cell that stops listening and cooperating with neighboring cells. That communication, however, is necessary for the complex mixture of cells our bodies contain.

He says, “This grant will investigate a process known as ‘canalization.’ Much like a canal for water directs the flow of water, canalization directs a cell as it matures into the specific type of cell needed by the body. Disrupting the canalization process can cause a cell to change and lose its direction, potentially pushing it down paths that lead to cancer.”

Sollars said his team will be testing the role of Vincent-Sollars-2012canalization in the process of maturing cells and cancer development. They will be targeting leukemia specifically with this grant but the results of their study can apply to all types of cancers.

“We think our work can have a great impact on science’s understanding of  how cancer progresses and will even help develop new treatments for most cancers,” he added.

This particular award is specifically designed to give students practical opportunities to participate in cutting-edge academic research. Over the course of the project, Sollars anticipates involving eight students from Marshall’s undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as students from the medical school. The grant also will fund a full-time technician.

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training.

Contact:  Ginny Painter, Communications Director, Marshall University Research Corporation, 304-746-1964 (o) or 304-552-1287 (c), www.marshall.edu/murc

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