Carnegie Mellon University
November 12, 2019

Aryn Gittis Awarded Grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation

By Caroline Sheedy

Neuroscientist Aryn Gittis, an associate professor of biological sciences in the Mellon College of Science and member of the Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute, has been awarded a grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation to advance her research on new treatment methods for Parkinson’s disease.  

Under the grant, Gittis will collaborate with the University of Minnesota’s Jing Wang. They will test electrical stimulation protocols Gittis developed at Carnegie Mellon University for therapeutic effects in Parkinson’s models.

A current treatment for some patients with Parkinson’s disease is deep brain stimulation, where the patient undergoes surgery to implant electrodes in their brain. When the electrodes stimulate neurons in the basal ganglia, the patient gets relief from their symptoms. But, as soon as the stimulation stops, the symptoms come back. 

“The fact that the symptoms come back when you turn the electrodes off means we are not fixing the problem, just masking it,” Gittis said. “We’d like to figure out a way to fix the brain so it doesn’t always need the stimulation.”

In previous work, Gittis and the researchers in her lab found a way to induce a long-lasting motor rescue in mice by driving a particular pattern of cell activity. In those experiments, the symptoms stopped for a few hours after the neurons were activated by optogenetics. Optogenetics is an experimental approach that cannot be used in humans, but Gittis was able to reproduce the pattern of cell activity in brain slices using electrical stimulation. Now Gittis will test if using this protocol can induce a long-lasting motor rescue in live mice.