Louise Parr Brownlie: Optogenetics lights the way forward for Parkinson’s patients

10 October 2015

Dr Parr-Brownlie is a Neurophysiologist and lecturer working for Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ), a Centre of Research Excellence that’s co-hosted by the University of Auckland and University of Otago.


louise parr brownlie

She’s one of small group of researchers in the world dedicated to researching optogenetics – which uses light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. Essentially living tissues are controlled on a molecular level using light – something unfathomable yet amazing. 

In collaboration with BRNZ colleague Dr Stephanie Hughes, Dr Parr-Brownlie’s research focuses on the neural mechanisms that underlie voluntary movements and the movement deficits of Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s great to bounce ideas off each other. We have such different backgrounds and that makes us a strong team” she says.

Ultimately, Louise hopes that one day the activation or silencing of cells with the use of optogenetics could restore movement or settle down involuntary movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

 “What we’ve found already is that there are probably better ways to stimulate the brain compared to the deep brain stimulation that’s currently used for patients,” Dr Parr-Brownlie explains. “The stimulation currently used is electrical stimulation that’s applied in a very regular pattern, so it’s almost like a clock ticking.

“Brain cells don’t work like that, they often have little patterns of activity, so what we did is we replayed patterns of activity in the brain and used optogenetic stimulation.

The technology is very specific, you can choose to stimulate one type of brain cell and not the other. We hope that we have fewer side effects as a result of using optogenetic stimulation. We hope in the future to do further studies to consolidate our findings and to take this technology to the human brain and for Parkinson’s patients,” she says. 

With leaders of neuroscience in their midst like Dr Parr-Brownlie, Brain Research New Zealand is poised and ready to make significant contributions to the global fight against neurodegenerative diseases.


For further information and contact details, visit Dr Parr-Brownlie's research group at the University of Otago website.   




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