Biomarkers - Dr. Christopher Phenix - Peering into the living brain
Dr. Christopher Phenix
In vitro assessment of conduritol aziridines; towards new PET probes for GBA1
Diagnosing early Parkinson’s disease is a challenging process that relies largely on the clinical skills of neurologists who are familiar with the symptoms in other patients they have treated. There is no biological test that can confirm early Parkinson’s – often, it is diagnosed late into its progression.
At the University of Saskatchewan, Christopher Phenix, an assistant professor of chemistry, has invented compounds that could be adapted into radioactive tracers that could attach to GBA1 in people. His goal is to allow researchers and clinicians to use Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to scan images of the brains of living people and study their levels of GBA1, which his tracer and chemical compound will make visible on an imaging scan.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a PET method where we can actually peer into the brain of a living person and study GBA1 activity or levels in real time,” Phenix says.
Not only would PET scans that reveal levels of GBA1 serve as a diagnostic aid for Parkinson’s disease, they could also be invaluable in measuring the effectiveness of drugs designed to increase the activity of the protein. Phenix’s compounds could produce a non-invasive test to see if the drugs are working, and could also help select patients with low GBA1 as good candidates for drug trials.
Being able to understand the underlying structures of Parkinson’s disease and how it progresses before most of the dopamine-producing brain cells have died, will also be critical once other researchers develop a therapy to stop the disease’s advancement.
“It’s a pretty devastating disease, so when you have a personal connection to it, it really helps you stay focused on your research and your goal to help people with Parkinson’s Disease,” Phenix says.