In what is being hailed as a “breakthrough” in Parkinson’s disease research, a team of Northwestern University scientists says it has developed a new class of compounds that shows promise in slowing the progression of the neurodegenerative condition.
Unlike current Parkinson’s drugs, which treat the symptoms but do not slow the progression of the disease, the new compounds work by manipulating the chemistry of the brain of Parkinson’s patients to “slam the door” on the processes that allow for its development and advancement.
"We've developed a molecule that could be an entirely new mechanism for arresting Parkinson's disease, rather than just treating the symptoms," said Richard B. Silverman, who helped conduct the research, published in the journal Nature Communications.SPECIAL: Improving Memory Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk
Parkinson's is caused by the death of dopamine nerve cells in the brains of patients, resulting in tremors, rigidity, and difficulty moving. The new compounds developed by Silverman and colleagues work by stopping the production of proteins that allow calcium to flood dopamine neurons, which in turn leads to premature aging of the brain and death.
"These are the first compounds to selectively target this channel," said co-researcher D. James Surmeier, chair of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "By shutting down the channel, we should be able to slow the progression of the disease or significantly reduce the risk that anyone would get Parkinson's disease if they take this drug early enough."
Surmeier noted the results of the team’s laboratory tests on the compounds are preliminary, but promising. Researchers will now test them on animals on the way to clinical trials in patients to determine their safety and effectiveness.
"We have a long way to go before we are ready to give this drug, or a reasonable facsimile, to humans, but we are very encouraged," Surmeier said.
The research was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the RJG Foundation.SPECIAL: Improving Memory Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk