Why glowing monkeys offer hope for Parkinson's

Dr Kieran Breen Last week you may have seen news about ‘glow-in-the-dark’ monkeys that may help lead towards a cure for Parkinson’s. It sounds like science-fiction, but the news stories refer to a major scientific breakthrough.

Japanese scientists have inserted a jellyfish gene - that glows under fluorescent light- into the DNA of marmosets. The monkeys are special because the jellyfish gene, easily visible in the cells where it is present, remains within the cells from one generation of monkeys to the next- the first time this has been successful in non-human primates.

So why is this exciting for Parkinson's? Well, this new milestone could lead us one step closer to a cure because marmosets have such a close genetic relationship to humans.

We know that genes play a large role in why people develop Parkinson's and for years, scientists have been studying the genes implicated in the condition in mice, worms and fruit flies. But there is a big difference between mice and men, and this might be the reason why we still haven’t found a cure.

So now scientists will be able to study genes as they are passed on in the marmosets, study what may cause Parkinson’s to develop, and search for new drugs and other treatments. But instead of using the fluorescent genes, we can use genes that are responsible for certain forms of inherited Parkinson’s.

Research into a cure for Parkinson's is constantly developing. If you are interested in keeping up to date about current research, subscribe to or download a copy of Progress, the quarterly research magazine of the PDS.

Dr Kieran Breen is Director of Research and Development for the Parkinson's Disease Society

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