7 breakthroughs in Parkinson’s you should know about


Parkinson’s disease doesn’t start and end with World Parkinson’s Day (11 April) every year.

Research for the disease is ongoing and there have been some headway made that could lead to promising new treatments to relieve sufferers and improve diagnosis of the disease.

Characterized by the destruction of a specific type of neuron called “dopamine neurons,” Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition that affects almost four million people worldwide. It causes sufferers’ movements to slow, as well as leading to tremors, stiffness of the lower limbs, fatigue and depression. Current treatments can control motor symptoms, but these have no effect on the disease’s other symptoms and don’t stop the degenerative nature of the condition.

Exercise could slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease

An American study, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, shows that aerobic exercise, such as elliptical training or brisk walking, releases small proteins in the brain which act like fertilizer on a lawn. In fact, exercise has been found to maintain brain connections and prevent the brain shrinkage and aging caused by the disease.

To effectively slow the effects of Parkinson’s, cardiovascular exercise should be practiced regularly (two to three times a week) and progressively, and should be accompanied by the correct dose of anti-Parkinson’s medication (carbidopa-levodopa).

New gene identified in early-onset Parkinson’s

A new gene — which goes by the name of VPS13C — has been linked to a rare and severe form of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, recent research has discovered. Some mutations of the gene have been linked to a form of the disease beginning before the age of 40, which shows fast and severe progression. This is characterized by major physical handicap — leading to the use of a wheelchair after a few years — and cognitive decline soon leading to dementia.

Anti-psychotics to be avoided

A new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that antipsychotic medication could have more negative than positive effects on certain Parkinson’s patients. The drugs were found to be linked to higher death rates in certain groups of patients prescribed this kind of medication.

The hope of a new treatment

In April 2014, a team from the Lille University Medical Center in France published positive initial results from a pilot study on the use of deferiprone in Parkinson’s patients. When administered in moderate doses, the molecule is capable of redistributing iron from areas of iron accumulation — a characteristic of the disease — to deficient zones. Participants in the clinical trial reported improvements to motor symptoms such as slowness of movement, tremor and rigidity. A follow-up European-scale study is currently underway.

Better sleep could reduce symptoms of the disease

An American study from Temple University in Philadelphia found that pre-existing disruptions to the circadian rhythm (the body’s sleep/wake cycle) at the onset of Parkinson’s disease could considerably worsen the motor and learning deficits brought on by the condition.

The scientists found that disordered exposure to light could actually make the condition worse. From these initial findings, the researchers suggest that rebalancing the circadian rhythm could help reverse brain inflammation and cell death.

A means of injecting neurons into the brain

Researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey have developed a new technique, outlined in the journal Nature Communications, aiming to improve the survival of neurons injected into the brain — a technique that was previously not viable. The researchers developed microscopic 3D structures within which converted stem cells could be converted into human neurons. These were then injected into mouse brains.

Tasigna leukemia drug shows promise for Parkinson’s

A drug already approved by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency for the treatment of leukemia has been found to be effective in combatting Parkinson’s disease and a form of dementia, according to the results of a small clinical trial presented at a Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago in 2015.

The Nilotinib molecule, produced by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis and sold under the name Tasigna, showed significant and encouraging changes in toxic proteins in the brain linked to the progression of Parkinson’s. Researchers who made the discovery state that this is the first time a treatment has appeared to reverse — to a greater or lesser extent depending on progression of the disease — cognitive and motor decline in patients suffering from these neurodegenerative conditions.

Source: AFP Relaxnews