Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Saturday, 5 December 2009

Worm could offer Parkinson's clue

C. elegans worm, which researchers will use to study Parkinson's Disease
Scientists will study the C. elegans worm for clues to Parkinson's Disease

Scientists believe that worms could hold the key to why some people develop Parkinson's Disease.

Worms share 50% of their genes with humans, including those involved with inherited Parkinson's.

Dundee University researchers will study a simple worm called C. elegans to try to work out why the condition causes patient's brain cells to die.

The Parkinson's Disease Society has given the university £190,000 to carry out the research.

Eventual cure

There are about 120,000 people with Parkinson's in the UK. In up to 5% of those cases, the disease is believed to be directly inherited.

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition affecting movements such as walking, talking and writing. It occurs as a result of a loss of nerve cells in the brain.

Dr Anton Gartner, who is leading the study, said: "Research leading to an eventual cure for Parkinson' s disease is a daunting task and requires a very broad and multidisciplinary approach.

"I am grateful to the Parkinson's society to recognise this and to so generously support our research."

It's fascinating that such a simple animal as a worm can be an excellent model for Parkinson's researchers
Dr Kieran Breen
Parkinson's Disease Society

Worms will be used in the study as they are one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system.

The way worms' nerve cells communicate with each other is also similar to how it works in humans.

Several genes, including one known as LRRK2, have been linked to the hereditary form of Parkinson's Disease.

Dr Gartner's team want to understand how changes or mutations in this gene lead to the development of Parkinson's - and how drugs could stop the damage that these mutations cause to nerve cells.

Dr Kieran Breen, from the Parkinson's Disease Society, said: "It's fascinating that such a simple animal as a worm can be an excellent model for Parkinson's researchers to study what happens in specific nerve cells.

"We are delighted to be funding this research with Dr Gartner in Dundee. It will help us to understand better what causes nerve cells to die in Parkinson's, and will help us to develop new treatments for the condition."

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