Research Spotlight: Connecting Crohn’s & Parkinson’s
Touro Scientist Discovers Gene Mutations That May Impact Diagnosis and Treatment for both Crohn’s and Parkinson’s Diseases
Biology professor Yakov Peter recently published a study in Science Translational Medicine that has implications for the diagnosis and treatment of both Parkinson’s and Crohn’s. Peter discusses his love for science, surprising discoveries he made while doing this research and advice for students who are interested in genetic research.
Touro: What was the purpose of your recently-published study on Crohn’s Disease?
Yakov Peter: We were looking to identify new genetic variations in people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry who are disproportionality affected by Crohn’s disease. As part of this study, we discovered a “risk” mutation in a gene called LRRK2 that increases the risk of Crohn’s disease and an independent “protective” mutation, more prevalent in individuals without the disease. Similar findings were also observed in people of non-Jewish European ancestry.
T: What was the most important finding?
YP: The involvement of these gene mutations in Crohn’s disease may lead to the development of new diagnostic tests to identify people at risk and also to the discovery of novel drugs that target the LRRK2 gene for clinical therapies.
T: Were you surprised by the results?
YP: Yes, the results showed a common gene linking Crohn’s and Parkinson’s, two seemingly unrelated diseases. This is surprising and compels us to take a fresh look into the shared molecular mechanisms that can lead to the development of Crohn’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
T: How will this research inform the diagnosis and treatment of Crohn’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease?
YP: Identification of unique mutations in the LRRK2 gene can help scientists better understand mechanisms underlying Crohn’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It can also lead to genetic tests to identify individuals who are at risk. Our findings can also help develop new drugs targeting the LRRK2 gene for treatment and/or prevention.
T: Is there a message for patients or their families from this research?
YP: If targeting the LRRK2 gene proves to be an efficient approach to treat Crohn’s disease, genetic testing for LRRK2 mutations may help identify individuals that may particularly benefit from these therapies. Also, Crohn’s patients who carry LRRK2 mutations may be screened for Parkinson’s disease earlier in life.
T: What inspired you to become a biologist?
YP: Science is fun! I have an insatiable curiosity, love solving puzzles, and have awe for the natural world. As a biologist, you get to use neat tools, visit exciting places, meet interesting people, and have the potential to make new discoveries that can eliminate diseases and impact humanity.
T: What advice do you have for students who are interested in genetic research?
YP: With the completion of the Human Genome Project and the ongoing advances in technology, genetics and genomics have moved to the forefront of clinical research and medicine. Being involved in genetic research is both intellectually challenging and extremely rewarding as it helps advance fascinating new fields such as personalized medicine. Whether you are interested in medicine, biology, computer sciences or engineering, your knowledge may be relevant to the field of genetics.
T: How do you create professional opportunities for students?
YP: I encourage my students to explore research opportunities. Every year, a number of students join my laboratory to work on a variety of projects, which include studies on Crohn’s disease and lung cancer. Many of these students were able to present their research at national meetings and to co-author original scientific papers and reviews. Most were accepted to the professional/graduate programs of their choice.
If you have a family member or know of someone with inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson's disease who would be interested in participating in this research, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org