M4I researcher receives funding from Michael J Fox Foundation

Professor Ron Heeren of Maastricht University and the Maastricht MultiModal Molecular Imaging Institute (M4I) in The Netherlands has secured funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Shake It Up Australia Foundation for an international research project into Parkinson’s disease (PD).

The project builds on several technical developments made at M4I in the fields of mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) and lipid analysis. With this funding the group will work to identify alterations in the metabolism of selective glycosphingolipids (GSLs) in specific brain regions that contributes to early Parkinson’s onset and accelerated progression rates.

“With the assembled team we can now start to understand and visualise, for the first time, the changes in composition and dynamic metabolism (flux) occurring within different brain regions in preclinical models of Parkinson’s disease,” Prof Heeren said.

“There is very little known about the role of changes in lipid metabolism in distinct brain regions of Parkinson’s disease. We know it is important but we do not know exactly where in the brain, nor how fast and via what metabolic processes these changes are happening.”

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The international team further includes Lipidomics Consulting Ltd, a front-running lipidomics company; the research group of Dr Shane Ellis at the University of Wollongong in Australia; MOBILion Systems, Inc., a US-based company developing and commercializing high-resolution ion mobility (SLIM) technology; and Merck & Co, Inc., a multinational pharmaceutical company.  

 “Current methods rely on the analysis of GSLs from whole tissue extracts and are thus blind to changes occurring in different regions of the brain,” Dr Ellis said. “We will utilise innovative mass spectrometry imaging methods to study, for the first time, lipid alterations in different brain regions with a resolution as low as 10 micrometres.”

Dr Ellis worked on some of these innovative imaging methods at M4I between 2014 and 2019 before accepting a Future Fellowship in Australia. “Such experiments have never been done before in this context and will provide a great deal of new, biochemical knowledge on the roles of specific lipids in Parkinson’s disease. Only with a better molecular-level understanding of Parkinson’s disease can better treatments be developed,” he said.

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