Friday, 15 February 2013

Parkinson’s UK “Dave the Worm” campaign – why study worms?

Parkinson’s UK have launched a campaign to raise money for research into worms. What have worms got to do with Parkinson’s?

The problem with studying the human brain is its bewildering complexity; it has around 100 billion nerve cells and is said to be the most complicated structure in the known universe! This creates a difficulty when trying to understand the basic causes of diseases like Parkinson’s; because the brain is so complex and contains a vast number of processes and individual components, it is very difficult to identify in humans those components responsible for Parkinson’s. Future treatment will target these malfunctioning components so it is crucial to identify them and study their effect on individual cells and also networks of nerve cells.

What is needed initially is less complexity. Luckily for us, we are related to an organism with a simple nervous system that shares many of the components found in our brains. This relative is C.elegans, a 1mm long worm! C.elegans has only 302 nerve cells (including dopamine producing nerve cells) and we know the “tube map” of what each cell connects to and its role in controlling the movement of the worm.

If something goes wrong with a nerve cell in C.elegans it develops movement symptoms; because of the worms relative simplicity the symptoms can be more easily traced back to the nerve cell and specifically to the component that has gone wrong. Also, the effect of the malfunction can be followed along the tube tracks of the nervous system of C.elegans to understand why the symptoms develop. Not bad for a 1mm long worm!

Basic research such as that in C.elegans is crucial in understanding the basis of diseases such as Parkinson’s, it forms the foundation of knowledge and sets the questions to be answered in more complex organisms, including humans.

Parkinson’s UK recognises the value of basic research and has launched a campaign to raise £250,000 for C.elegans research by sponsoring one of our worm relatives. Follow the links for further information and to help cure Parkinson’s:

Dave’s website

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