UCLA gets $6.5M grant to explore how pesticides boost Parkinson's risk

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Elaine Schmidt
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Chesselet and colleagues will investigate how high exposure to agricultural pesticides may boost individuals' risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Dr. Beate Ritz, Chesselet's colleague and a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, demonstrated this link in earlier studies conducted in California's San Joaquin Valley. Now the team aims to pinpoint the mechanisms responsible for this relationship.

"We want to identify how agricultural pesticides disrupt molecular pathways, leading to the death of dopaminergic brain cells, which regulate essential brain functions. Their demise sets off a chain of events that leads to Parkinson's symptoms," said Chesselet, who also is a faculty member of UCLA's neurology department and the UCLA Brain Research Institute. "By improving scientific understanding of the role that environmental factors play in causing Parkinson's disease, we hope to pave the way for better prevention and treatment strategies."

UCLA is one of three universities funded by the NIEHS's Centers for Neurodegeneration Science. The current grant builds on the previous work of the institute's Collaborative Centers for Parkinson's Disease Environmental Research, founded in 2002 to foster interdisciplinary research on gene–environment interactions involved in the disorder.

Chesselet also directs the UCLA Morris K. Udall Parkinson Disease Center of Excellence, which is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Advanced Center for Parkinson Research, funded by the American Parkinson Disease Foundation. UCLA has also received Parkinson's disease research grants from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and other private and public organizations.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative movement disorder that worsens over time and affects nerve cells in several regions of the brain. More than 1 million Americans suffer from the disorder, and some 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The average age of onset is 60, and the cause is unknown. Therapies exist to manage the disease's symptoms, but there is presently no cure or therapies to slow the disorder's progression.
Media Contact:
Elaine Schmidt
(310) 794-2272
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