The Fox Focus Fall/Winter 2017 - Page 12

Research by RACHEL COHEN LRRK2 Rockets into Space to Further Parkinson’s Research LRRK2 aboard the International Space Station Since its discovery in 2004, researchers have wondered if LRRK2, a key protein linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD), could lead us to a cure. On August 14, LRRK2 took another step (a 240-mile one) in its journey as a disease- modifying target when it blasted off for study aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) initiated the project with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space and collaborated to prepare the protein for transport to and from the ISS as part of the SpaceX CRS-12 cargo resupply mission. LRRK2 is a priority target for PD researchers, who hypothesize that Parkinson’s progression can be slowed or even prevented by inhibiting the protein’s function. However, with limited understanding of LRRK2’s structure, creating therapies is a challenge. When removed from the limitations imposed by Earth’s strong gravitational field, scientists hypothesized that the protein could grow larger and with fewer defects. These compounds would help scientists design optimized therapies and provide a much clearer target for drug developers. In late September, the LRRK2 crystals returned to Earth for further study by researchers in California, the United Kingdom and Germany. Analysis so far shows that crystals of adequate size were produced in microgravity, but the study still faces many of the same challenges as with those grown on Earth. The experiment serves as just one component of the Foundation’s LRRK2 roadmap, which continues to engage leading researchers worldwide. “We have world-renowned structural scientists who are obsessed with uncovering the mysteries of LRRK2,” says Marco Baptista, PhD, director, research programs at MJFF. LRRK2 is moving closer to the clinic! Stay tuned to for updates on this priority research area. 12 The Fox Focus