Parkinson’s UK reports that it is investing up to £1.2 million into a one-year project in partnership with the University of Sheffield that aims to refine a molecule that could be developed into a drug to protect dopamine-producing brain cells and slow down the progression of Parkinson’s.

The funding boost comes via the charity’s Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech initiative, which is fast-tracking the development of new treatments for people with Parkinson’s. Scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and Parkinson’s UK have been developing molecules that can boost the function of the brain’s mitochondria to halt the disease something no treatment can currently do.

Earlier work funded by a Parkinson’s UK Senior Fellowship grant and given to Heather Mortiboys, PhD, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, identified two molecules with excellent mitochondrial restoration properties.

The project continued with funding through the Virtual Biotech and saw Mortiboys work with Parkinson’s UK Drug Discovery experts. Together they made modifications to these molecules which reportedly maximized their ability to boost the mitochondria without causing side effects. The scientists have been using cells from people with Parkinson’s and will continue to test molecules in these cells throughout and into the next phase of the project.

“We’re delighted to continue our work with Parkinson’s UK to refine these promising molecules to develop a treatment that could stop Parkinson’s in its tracks,” says Mortiboys. “The team has identified not only molecules which can restore mitochondrial function in dopaminergic neurons from people with Parkinson’s, but also a novel mechanism by which they do this.”

“We’re progressing both a novel mitochondrial therapeutic target and novel molecules which act upon this target. The aim is to have a lead molecule which is active at the mitochondrial target, can restore mitochondrial function in dopaminergic neurons derived from people with Parkinson’s and is able to get into the brain in a whole organism.”