Dundee Parkinson's Research Campaign - Professor Dario Alessi

Published on 1 October 2019

Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and at present, there is no cure

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Dario Alessi

Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and at present, there is no cure.

Data suggests that more than 145,000 people in the UK are currently affected by the disease, while 1 in 37 people in the country will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in their lifetime.

The challenge of developing new treatments to help those with the condition is massive, but to Professor Dario Alessi that is the sort of challenge he likes.

“I’m stubborn. If you don’t succeed first time then I believe you need to double your effort,” he says.

The Director of the University’s Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit (MRC-PPU), his research focuses on the LRRK2 gene, the most frequent cause of inherited Parkinson’s disease.

“I first came to Dundee to learn more about Phosphorylation from Sir Philip Cohen,” he continues.

“For the first 13 years I looked at diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, making big advances in these fields, but by 2004 I needed something more challenging. Most researchers would have stayed in their field and enjoyed a long, stress-free career within their comfort zone, but I never wanted that.

“At that time some studies had been published involving phosphorylation and Parkinson’s and I thought this was very interesting. I had never considered it as a field of research for me before.”

Professor Alessi’s work with LRRK2 focuses on understanding how the gene functions and mutates, leading to Parkinson’s disease.

“The thing that really motivated me when I started my research was that there had been very little progress in treating Parkinson’s.

“The last drug that has been of any benefit to those with the condition was discovered in 1967 – levodopa - but that is like taking a paracetamol when you have the flu. It reduces the effect of the symptoms but doesn’t stop the disease.”

While already regarded as a global leader in Parkinson’s research, Professor Alessi remains determined to make real differences to those living with the illness. Asked what difference achieving the target of the Dundee’s Parkinson’s Campaign would make, he adds, “The job is not done until it is done.

“I feel a sense of responsibility towards every person I meet with Parkinson’s. I am always asked how long it will be before a new treatment is developed and that is incredibly difficult to answer, but what I can assure them is that we will continue working on this.

“100% of this funding will be used to advance our research. It will be used to recruit the brightest minds, launch their research programmes and purchase new equipment.

“Achieving our target would be transformative.”

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Press Office, University of Dundee

Story category Public interest, Research