Dr Valina Dawson is Director of the Programs in Neuroregeneration and Stem Cells in the Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is a Professor in the Departments of Neurology, Neuroscience and Physiology. Her laboratory has been on the forefront of discovery of neurotoxic signalling events in stroke and Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. There is currently no therapy that can slow or halt the progression of the disease. Individuals with PD have both motor and non-motor symptoms. While 10-15% of PD is due to genetic mutations the majority of PD is sporadic. It is thought that the neurodegenerative process of PD in both familial and sporadic PD is driven by pathological alpha-synuclein, a presynaptic neuronal protein that aggregates and accumulates in Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites in the nervous system. Using models of familial PD, we have uncovered critical pathologic cell signaling pathways and have tested inhibitors that could slow or prevent disease. We have discovered mechanisms of transmission of pathological alpha-synuclein in neuronal circuits and developed a new model of sporadic PD. We have also uncovered an important role for microglia and astrocytes in the pathogenesis of PD and identified a small molecule inhibitor that is disease modifying in animal models.