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Mart Saarma’s work has focused on the in vivo roles, therapeutic effects and receptors of the neurotrophic factors including GDNF and the novel neurotrophic factor CDNF discovered by his research group. They have shown that CDNF very efficiently protects and repairs dopamine neurons in vivo. Prof. Saarma’s work has been instrumental in understanding the therapeutic potential of these neurotrophic factors for neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Parkinson’s disease. He has published more than 200 scientific articles. His group has characterized several new GDNF family receptors and demonstrated that RET receptor tyrosine kinase is the signaling receptor for GDNF.

Mart Saarma’s research group is investigating the signalling and biological functions of GDNF family ligands and endoplasmic reticulum located CDNF/MANF neurotrophic factor families, both within and outside of the nervous system. They are also interested in the therapeutic potential of these proteins in various diseases, so they are testing their efficacy in animal models of Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke and diabetes mellitus. One of the highlights of their research has been, in 2017, the initiation of phase I-II clinical trials of CDNF protein in Parkinson’s disease patients by the Finnish company Herantis Pharma Plc.