Honors Research presents second-year results of Parkinson’s study

Ashley Chassard’s students present findings from the second year of research.

“This is about getting results,” said senior Alex Kropp. “There are no right results or wrong results – just results.”

On Tuesday, Menchville’s Honors Research in Cellular Applications class, led by Ashley Chassard, presented their second-year research findings from the class experiment, in which zebrafish embryos were used to investigate the effects of estrogen on Parkinsonian symptoms. The 2019 class sought to strengthen the data found by the inaugural research class last year, which proposed estrogen as an effective preventative, but not treatment, measure.

The testing process mimicked the experiment setup from last year. Zebrafish embryos were split into three general groups- pre-treatment, co-treatment, and post-treatment- in order to understand the effect of the timing of estrogen introduction on Parkinsonian symptoms. In order to induce Parkinsonian symptoms, also known as TRAP (tremors, rigidity, akinesia or bradykinesia, and postural instability), the students exposed the embryos to 6-OHDA, a neurotoxin that disrupts their movement. Zebrafish embryos with early estrogen introduction appeared to display fewer or lessened TRAP symptoms than their counterparts.

“Estrogen is more effective as a preventative measure, rather than as a treatment after the neurons have been damaged,” explained senior Hannah Dahl.

Of course, these results cannot be significant unless they are backed by statistics; the class used a two-proportion z test to check the validity of their findings. These test values affirmed the idea that zebrafish with estrogen exhibited fewer TRAP symptoms than those without, but the findings that estrogen is more effective the earlier it is introduced were not statistically significant enough to be accepted. Senior Caitlyn Davis pointed out, “We cannot statistically prove that pre-treatment did any better than co-treatment,” despite what raw experimental data might show. Overall, the class affirmed last year’s findings.

Chassard and her research class certainly had some challenges along the way- the experiment was almost hindered by funding issues, shipping mishaps, and a subpar batch of zebrafish eggs. Despite the difficulties, the class carried out a successful investigation, which was featured in the Daily Press and attracted beaming responses from readers.

“When the Daily Press article came out, I got a letter in my box, and it came from a woman who lives in Hampton and is living with Parkinson’s. Before she had Parkinson’s, she was taking estrogen for another medical issue, and she told me she wondered why, over the course of having Parkinson’s, her symptoms have not been progressing like some other folks,” Chassard shared. “Now, please don’t make any clinical decisions based on our research, but I just find it interesting that she was maybe seeing this,” she said, gesturing to the presentation.

Next year, Chassard’s Research class will be shifting focus from prevention to treatment. A laboratory study by MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine showed evidence that the drug MSI-1436 could stimulate the regeneration of body tissue. The drug is derived from dogfish sharks and has demonstrated regenerative success in laboratory trials with, coincidentally, zebrafish. While much of MSI-1436 study has focused around heart disease and cancer, Chassard’s students hope to test its regenerative properties in the context of Parkinson’s Disease. Next year’s class will study whether MSI-1436 has an effect on reducing the effects of Parkinsonian symptoms induced, using neurotoxin, in C. elegans worms.