Boston University Neurologist Awarded $100,000 to Study Gene Linked to Parkinson’s

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by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Richard Myers, a Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) professor of neurology, has just received a $100,000 grant from the Ellison Foundation to investigate new targets for Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Myers’ focus is on genetic research methods into diseases with adult onset, like PD, Huntington’s, or obesity. His research team has been examining the genetics of PD for over two decades and has participated in a broad series of research programs for this disease.

The Aubrey Milunsky Chair in Human Genetics at BUSM, Myers will lead a team in investigating why a deficiency of the Cyclin G-associated kinase (GAK) gene and protein increases the risk for developing Parkinson’s.

GAK is a protein coding gene, critical for a process that is essential for normal brain function and activity. The goal is to define what versions of GAK are in the human brain, how they work, and how certain variations could protect people from PD.

“We are seeking to understand how and why this gene has such a large impact on PD and to identify the mechanism by which the deficiency leads to the death of nerve cells in the brain,” Myers, who is also the director of the Genome Science Institute, said in a press release. “We have evidence that increasing the levels of this gene, or the protein it makes, may decrease or prevent the cell death seen in PD, and we will explore whether this may be a new avenue for treatment of PD.”

Additional interests include ethical issues influencing the use of genetic test procedures, such as positional cloning. He participated in the cloning of the gene for Huntington’s in 1993, and initiated the genome scan project in the Framingham Study, as well as a scan in PD.

Myers is also leading a PD genetic linkage study, called the GenePD study – involving an international collaboration of 20 clinical centers specialized in PD – which is seeking genetic loci involved in risk for PD.

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