Kieran Breen: The race against time to unlock this terrible illness

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The area of the brain Parkinson's researchers are most interested in is the substantia nigra, where nerve cells die in the disease. The substantia nigra of a Parkinson's-affected brain contains cells which are alive, cells which are dying, and remains of cells which are dead.

There are specific pathological changes characteristic of Parkinson's. Changes in the levels of specific proteins or even the appearance of new proteins may provide us with valuable insights into what is happening when the nerve cells die.

The brain rapidly deteriorates after death, so it should arrive in the bank within 24 hours. The longer it takes, the more chance of cells being damaged. Because of this, we may miss subtle changes that occur in Parkinson's that may have particular importance.

Some changes during the progression of Parkinson's are likely to be associated with general ageing, so we need to compare a Parkinson's brain with a control brain. Changes specific to Parkinson's can then be identified. We will then be closer to identifying factors that may halt, reverse or prevent nerve cell death.

Kieran Breen is Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson's Disease Society