New Drug to treat Parkinson’s?

Researchers have made a major discovery that could slow — and even stop — the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers from Northwestern University found isradipine (DynaCirc), a drug widely used to treat cardiac hypertension and stroke, can restore the worn out dopamine neurons in the brain. Dopamine transmits messages in the brain affecting one’s ability to control movements. By halting the regression of these dopamine neurons, researchers report this drug could become the first to treat the cause of Parkinson’s, rather than just the symptoms.

“If this drug works [in humans], then it really turns upside down the therapeutic strategies for Parkinson’s disease,” James Surmeier, Ph.D., chair of physiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and leader of this research study, told Ivanhoe. “In fact, if it’s effective, it means that we should be able to stop the disease entirely.”

Dr. Surmeier says he hopes this drug will also protect dopamine neurons in patients who have not yet developed Parkinson’s, so at-risk patients could take the drug everyday like a vitamin and never develop the disease. Next, phase III clinical trials will be administered on humans to determine the drug’s effectiveness, but Dr. Surmeier is optimistic.

“The drug that we have available to us now is safe in a broad dosage range and has very few side effects,” Dr. Surmeier said. One of the main components of this existing drug targets the circulatory system, he said, so it isn’t perfect for Parkinson’s yet. “Now we need to work towards developing a drug that selectively targets the process in the brain that we think is involved in the degeneration of dopaminonic neurons.”

Dr. Surmeier believes Parkinson’s is “a significant enough public health concern” and preclinical data is strong enough to expect to see further progress in the near future. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States with more than 1 million sufferers today.

SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with James Surmeier, Ph.D.; Nature, published online June 10, 2007

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