A group of UR Medical Center researchers and investigators have discovered a link between pesticides and dopamine, which could slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

“We think that this is an important first step in identifying individuals who are at risk,” Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine Lisa Opanashuk said. “We hope to develop exposure assessment tools to identify people who may be more susceptible.”

As a result of this study, the research group, led by Professor Opanashuk, has announced that polychlorinated biphenyls and pesticides damage the dopamine-producing cells, making them more vulnerable to injury after exposure.

If patients lack dopamine in their brain cells, they suffer from muscle tremors, slower movement, weakness and various other effects.

Parkinson’s disease has been and still is considered one of the most mysterious diseases, and hardest to cure.

However, with such findings, the progression of Parkinson’s disease may be slowed.

Along with Opanashuk, several graduate students in the toxicology program conducted extensive research on Parkinson’s disease and how to prevent or slow down its progression.

Since its establishment, graduates from this program have worked in numerous renowned academic institutions, pharmaceutical industries and governmental agencies.

“The toxicology program trains students to look at the big picture in order to ask the right questions that range from what are the molecular mechanisms underlying a certain toxicant to what is its impact on human health in general,” Donna Lee, one of the graduate students conducting research in the program said.

According to researchers, PCBs have a direct implications on human health, distracting the dopamine system of patients’ brain cells.

Furthermore, the oxidative stress they cause is considered to be the main reason why cell degeneration occurs in Parkinson’s disease patients.

Additionally, pesticides like maneb are also said to be a possible cause of oxidative stress.

“Maneb is routinely sprayed on a wide variety of crops and used for vegetation control in highways,” Lee said. “And recently, a study in a high-profile science journal demonstrated that farmed salmon now contains more PCBs than wild-caught salmon.The worst thing is the contamination as a result of industrial waste from a long time ago. PCBs have been banned since 1978 in the United States and because they are degraded very slowly, they stick around in the environment for a long time,”Lee said.

Thus, it is the researchers’ goal to discover exactly how much of an effect PCBs and numerous other pesticides have on the progression of Parkinson’s disease and to determine strategic ways to prevent exposures to these harmful substances.

“The long term goals are to understand the risks associated with environmental exposures,” Opanashuk said. “We strive to understand the mechanisms of cellular injury and dysfunction.”

“Also, we hope to provide some insight into therapeutic approaches to slow down or even stop the progression of the disease,” she added.

URMC, home to the Parkinson’s Disease Data and Organizing Center, conducts one of the most advanced and innovative studies on Parkinson’s disease.

The institution strives to achieve the highest standard of education and research in the entire country, and in terms of Parkinson’s disease, has done so successfully.

“URMC has undertaken many efforts related to the study of the causes of Parkinson’s disease, disease progression and treatment,” Research Dean at the Medical Center Howard Federoff said.

Not only has URMC produced influential results on the disease, but it has also attained nationwide recognition as a medical institution which has promoted the influx of potential student candidates, scientists and patients.

“The Medical Center’s contributions bring substantial recognition that will continue to attract scientists and clinicians. The ontributions are bringing much recognition.” Federoff said.

Aoyama can be reached at yaoyama@campustimes.org.

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