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Funded Studies

Evaluating the Role and Therapeutic Potential of Natural Killer Cells in Parkinson's Disease

Study Rationale:
Natural killer (NK) cells are immune cells that defend the body against external and internal threats. While the number of NK cells is increased in Parkinson's disease (PD), it remains unclear whether they promote neurodegeneration or protect the brain.

We hypothesize that NK cells protect the brain by removing clumps of protein alpha-synuclein, presence of which is a hallmark of PD, and by limiting the spread of toxic alpha-synuclein clumps in the nervous system.

Study Design:
In this study, we will use both in vitro and in vivo experimental approaches to fully understand the complex interactions of NK cells with other cell types and alpha-synuclein. Using a microfluidic chamber -- a sophisticated setup for growing and testing cells -- we will determine whether NK cells can keep brain cells healthy and connected to each other in the presence of toxic alpha-synuclein clumps. To infect a nerve cell with alpha-synuclein, we will introduce the clumps either into the center of the cell or into the tips of its processes. We will then investigate the role of NK cells in PD using pre-clinical models with Parkinson's features.

Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson's disease:
The aim of this study is to determine whether NK cells can protect brain cells by scavenging toxic alpha-synuclein clumps. We aim to determine whether these cells have a therapeutic potential in Parkinson's disease.

Next Steps for Development:
This study will provide evidence of the usefulness of NK cells as a therapy for PD. It will also yield ample information to further study NK function and strategies for the therapeutic use of these cells.


  • Jae-Kyung Lee, PhD

    Athens, GA United States

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