Image of cells that trigger Parkinson's
Image of cells that trigger Parkinson'sIsrael news photo: US government

The giant Johnson & Johnson drug firm has awarded University Haifa scientist Dr. Sarit Larisch a grant for her breakthrough research on exploring the cause of brain cell damage in Parkinson’s Disease. This is the first time in three years that an Israeli scientist has received the Johnson & Johnson Focus Funding award.

Head of the Cell Death Research Laboratory and senior lecturer in the University of Haifa's Department of Biology, Dr. Larisch won the award that is granted each year to scientists in support of innovation and excellence in science.

Her study of Parkinson's disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by the death of nerve cells in areas of the brain that control muscle movement, has revealed a direct link between a protein implicated in the disease, and another protein, known as ARTS, which promotes death of cells.

All cells in the body have the ability to self-destruct by activating an intrinsic cell suicide program called apoptosis, explains Dr. Larisch. In this way, the accumulation of damaged and potentially dangerous cells, such as tumor cells, is greatly limited.

ARTS is an important activator of cell death that was discovered by Dr. Larisch several years ago. It is normally present in most of our cells at a central junction within the cell death control machinery, and has the ability to transmit the last irreversible order of destruction to the cell.

Excess of cell death occurring in the brains of Parkinson’s Disease patients has been reported by many researchers as the major cause for the observed symptoms of the ailment, but the direct cause for this excess cell death has remained unclear.  Dr. Larisch and her associate researchers have found for the first time a direct link between Parkin, a protein that plays a major role in hereditary Parkinson's Disease, and ARTS.

"Further understanding of how defects in the interaction between ARTS and Parkin cause the loss of brain cells may lead to a better treatment of patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease," Dr. Larisch concludes.