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Creighton team's NIH grant will help study potential approaches to movement difficulty in Parkinson's disease

A team of Creighton University researchers in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology has earned a National Institutes of Health grant to help people experiencing the gross motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease.

The two-year, $412,400 grant will examine the effects of drug therapy on a receptor in nerve cells tied to such activities as walking. The misfiring of the nerve cells, housed in the brain’s globus pallidus structure, is suspected to cause difficulty in movement and immobility.

Shashank Dravid, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, is the lead investigator on the grant, with a research group comprising Gajanan Shelkar, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher, Jinxu Liu, a research associate, Ratnamala Pavuluri, research technician and a graduate student, Pauravi Gandhi.

“It’s a great team working on this, all do excellent work in their respective domains and we are using some of the state-of-the-art techniques in neuroscience to answer our questions,” said Dravid, whose lab also has a grant from the National Science Foundation working on similar projects aimed at understanding fundamental aspects of how brain cells communicate and its application to neurological disorders. “For us, it’s a privilege to be able to work at something you love and also to be able to, hopefully, come up with some new ways of helping people.”

The NIH grant comes after several recent breakthroughs on the Parkinson’s disease front. Dravid said it was believed that all cells in the globus pallidus were homogenous, but new studies have shown there are three different cell types on which reside different receptors. Being able to now more accurately pinpoint the cells and the receptors means there are new approaches for Dravid’s lab to explore.

“Serendipitously, many of the drugs that have been recently discovered work selectively on the receptor we are interested in,” Dravid said. “Everything has started, unexpectedly, to go in that direction. We’re hoping to find new drugs or new uses for a drug tied to that receptor that can help correct it and help people get walking.”

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