Exterior of the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. Image from the institute’s brochure

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) announced Tuesday it received $3.5 million as part of a team award from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) to support a three-year study into how immune cells may contribute to Parkinson’s disease.

In studies published in 2017 and 2020, researchers reported that the immune system’s T cells contribute to the onset of Parkinson’s disease by targeting a protein called alpha-synuclein, which gathers in damaged clumps on dopamine-producing brain cells.

The new funding will allow expansion upon this research by investigating T cells in people at risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to LJI.

More than 930,000 Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder in which the brain cells that normally produce the neurotransmitter dopamine die off. The exact cause of this cell death is unknown.

The investigation will be spearheaded by LJI Research Assistant Professor Cecilia Lindestam Arlehamn, Ph.D., and LJI Professor Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci., in a close collaboration with overall study leader Professor David Sulzer, Ph.D., of Columbia University.

The ASAP initiative supports multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams working to uncover the roots of Parkinson’s disease and is working with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to implement its programs.

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