News Release

Sheffield scientist awarded funding to develop a new treatment for Parkinson's disease

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Sheffield

A Sheffield academic has been awarded £100,000 of funding by the Virtual Biotech Programme - the drug development arm of charity Parkinson's UK - to develop a new treatment that could protect brain cells affected by Parkinson's disease, potentially slowing, or stopping its progression for the first time.

Dr Heather Mortiboys and her team from the University of Sheffield's Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and the University's new Neuroscience Institute will work with the charity Parkinson's UK to modify a number of drug compounds that have been found to boost cell function in people living with Parkinson's.

Dopamine-containing brain cells - vital for healthy coordination and movement - rely on energy-producing mitochondria to function, but in people living with Parkinson's the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cells are disrupted and the cells begin to fail and slowly die.

As a Senior Research Fellow for Parkinson's UK, Dr Mortiboys and her team have identified a number of drug compounds which could boost the function of these dopamine-containing brain cells. Their previous research utilised recently developed methods to grow these brain cells from the skin cells of patients with Parkinson's disease, and importantly they developed a way to generate them in high numbers - something never achieved before - to test the identified drug compounds on these patient-derived cells.

Dr Mortiboys' research isolated a number of these compounds which were found to boost the mitochondrial function in these dopamine-producing brain cells and potentially reduce cell death; the cause of the main symptoms of Parkinson's which consist of loss of movement, tremors and rigidity.

Over the next 12 months, this award will enable Dr Mortiboys and her team to identify a lead molecule from the compounds which has the most beneficial effects on mitochondrial function of the brain cells, to be progressed along the drug discovery pipeline with partners at the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre.

It is hoped this new work will lead to the development of a treatment which will protect these brain cells, slow the progression of Parkinson's and extend the quality of life for people living with the disease.

Dr Mortiboys, said: "The partnership between our team and Parkinson's UK could lead to a UK first in the development of treatments for Parkinson's, putting our research one step closer to pioneering a breakthrough treatment for Parkinson's patients.

"All the clinical treatments for people living with Parkinson's at the moment are based on easing these sometimes devastating symptoms," added Dr Mortiboys. "With this new funding award through the Virtual Biotech Programme, we have the potential to go on to develop a drug treatment which will actively address the root cause of these symptoms to slow, or halt the progression of Parkinson's for the first time."

The research forms part of the work of the University of Sheffield's Neuroscience Institute, that aims to translate scientific discoveries from the lab into pioneering treatments that will benefit patients living with neurodegenerative disorders.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Director of SITraN and the Neuroscience Institute said: "There is an urgent need for treatments to protect the nerve cells that become damaged in patients with Parkinson's disease, which will have a crucial impact in slowing the progression of the condition and improving the quality of life.

"Dr Mortiboys and her team are identifying drugs which improve the function of, and reduce the damage to nerve cells in laboratory models of Parkinson's disease.

"We plan to take the most promising of these from the SITraN laboratories to progress along the drug discovery pipeline for patients with partners at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. We are hugely grateful to Parkinson's UK for supporting this important translational research."

Richard Morphy, Drug Discovery Manager at Parkinson's UK, said: "We are delighted to partner and work with Dr Heather Mortiboys and her team at the University of Sheffield. Through our Virtual Biotech initiative, we are committed to accelerating promising and breakthrough treatments for Parkinson's.

"This is an exciting new approach that could rescue defective mitochondria inside neurons to prevent dysfunction and degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells. With 148,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK, there is a desperate need for new and better treatments for Parkinson's. We hope the project will identify a superior group of molecules that could one day deliver a life-changing drug for people living with the condition."


Media contact: Rebecca Ferguson, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 222 9859 or email

Notes to editors

The Neuroscience Institute at the University of Sheffield brings together leading experts in medicine, science and engineering to better understand the nervous system and tackle the biggest challenges in neuroscience.

Parkinson' UK Virtual Biotech invests more than £4 million per year to fast track projects to rapidly develop and test treatments with the potential to transform life for people with Parkinson's.

About Parkinson's

Every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson's.

It affects 148,000 people in the UK - which is around one in 350 of the adult population.

Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure. The main symptoms of the condition are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The National Institute for Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care.

Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research.

Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future.

Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services.

Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

About Parkinson's UK

Parkinson's UK is the UK's leading charity supporting those with the condition. Its mission is to find a cure and improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson's through pioneering research, information, support and campaigning. For advice, information and support, visit or call our free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303.

About The Parkinson's Virtual Biotech

Launched in March 2017, the Parkinson's Virtual Biotech programme is the drug discovery and development arm of Parkinson's UK, the largest charitable funder of Parkinson's research in Europe. Its mission is to fast-track the most promising treatments with the potential to transform life for people with Parkinson's. It aims to do this by creating a portfolio of projects that can attract further investment and partnering with companies to take successful projects into the later stages of drug development and trials.

Parkinson's UK is looking for further partners to help it create a portfolio of projects that can attract further investment and take successful projects into the later stages of drug development and trials. For more information visit:

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