A boost in funding to Rutgers University for continued research on the inner-workings of the brain could lead to new therapies for Parkinson's Disease.

Rutgers Professor Dr. James M. Tepper/photo by Rob Forman
Rutgers Professor Dr. James M. Tepper/photo by Rob Forman

The National Institutes for Health has awarded Dr. James M. Tepper, a Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at the Center For Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience on the Newark-campus, a $3.4 million dollar grant to continue researching an area deep in the brain where symptoms of Parkinson's Disease develop.

Parkinson's disease affects about one million Americans and is caused by the death of a certain small cell group deep in the brain. "Those cells project to another place called the neostriatum, which is where we work," said Dr. Tepper. "The neostriatum is composed of a lot of different cell types and some of them are called interneurons, and these interneurons talk among themselves and also talk to the principal cells of the striatum in controlling output." He explained, "In Parkinson's Disease the whole neostriatum and other regions of the system that it's connected to called basal ganglia become, instead of firing randomly and without any sort of relationship to one another, which is the normal state, the neurons start firing in unison and they oscillate." That oscillation is bad and is what causes the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.

Dr. Tepper said the grant is to study the different interneurons in the striatum, how they are connected to the principal neurons in the striatum and how they may help to control and stop this unnatural oscillation that happens in Parkinson's Disease. Although Dr. Tepper doesn't expect the research to lead to a cure for Parkinson's, he said, "Once Parkinson's Disease has developed, the kind of work we do might lead to therapies to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease."

Dr. Tepper has been studying this particular area of the brain for more than 20 years. The grant will allow him to continue conducting research for another 5 years from 2015 to 2019.

Dr. Tepper pointed out that people who study this area of the brain also research addictions, such as opiate narcotics, in looking for possible treatments.




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