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Promising new drug slows Parkinson's progression in mice

Published on 04/07/18 at 09:04am

Researchers from John Hopkins University have developed an experimental drug that slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease in mice. The drug, which is similar to compounds used to treat diabetes, could be one of the first treatments to directly target the progression of the degenerative condition.

According to investigators of the study, which has been published in the journal Nature Medicine, the compound  prevents the process through which astrocytes – star shaped cells that assist neurons in communicating – are converted into aggressive ‘activated’ astrocytes, which causes the death of neurons in the brain. 

As expanded upon by Dr Ted Dawson, the Director of the Institute for Cell Engineering and a Professor of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “The activated astrocytes we focused on go into a revolt against the brain and this structural breakdown contributes to the dead zones of brain tissue found in those with Parkinson’s disease. The idea was that if we could find a way to calm those astrocytes, we might be able to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The neuroprotective drug first showed potential in a preliminary experiment using laboratory-grown human brain cells, which demonstrated NLY01’s ability to prevent the conversion of astrocytes into destructive activated cells. The hypothesis was tested further in mice which had been engineered to suffer from a rodent version of Parkinson’s disease. In those mice that were treated with NLY01 there was no loss of dopamine neurons. The medicated mice retained normal physical function, thus indicating the drugs protective qualities against the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Further investigation demonstrated that mice treated with NLY01 showed few signs of the neurodegenerative characteristics associated with the long-term degenerative disorder, which affects approximately one million people in the United States alone.

While Dawson cautions that the drug must still be tested for safety and effectiveness in people, he does not anticipate any major roadblocks to its human use.  The drug is particularly promising due to the safety profiles of other similar compounds such as diabetes treatments exenatide, lixisenatide, liraglutide and dulaglutide which have already seen approval from the FDA.

Louis Goss

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