Canadian research unveils what goes wrong in the brain cells of sufferers.

Parkinson’s disease has notched up some high profile scalps over the years, including actor Michael J Fox, former crooner Linda Ronstadt and late great pugilist Muhammad Ali.

But the incurable brain disease, which leaves victims with the shakes, rigid limbs and actions slowed to a crawl, cuts a broad, if more muted, swathe through ordinary society. There are 110,000 Australians living with the disease and their average time from diagnosis to death is little more than 12 years.

New research, however, published in the journal Nature Communications and led by neurobiologist Scott Ryan from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, shines light on what goes awry deep inside the brain cells of sufferers, and may open a door to new treatment.

Parkinson’s kills off brain cells that make dopamine, and it’s the lack of this neurotransmitter that unhinges motor control. Hence those miraculous images of the late neurologist Oliver Sacks “waking up” his frozen patients with the dopamine precursor levodopa, a drug that remains in use today but whose effects are often, sadly, short-lived.

Ryan’s team has shown, for the first time, how a protein called alpha-synuclein – alpha-syn for short – contributes to the death of dopamine-making brain cells.

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here