Improving Patient Education – Introducing Eirwen Malin

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Today’s post is something a bit different from our usual fodder.

Here at SoPD HQ, we like to throw our support behind worthy projects. And we were recently contacted by Eirwen Malin regarding an idea that we were genuinely passionate about: Improving patient education

Eirwen is being supported by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and in the second half of the year she will travel to the USA and then later to Argentina to find new ideas for Patient Education.

In today’s post, we are handing over the keys to the car to Eirwen and we will let her explain the project that she is about to undertake. The goal of this post is to get feedback, ideas and thoughts about the plans for her project. We also encourage all our readers to follow Eirwen (contact details at the bottom of the post) as she undertakes this exciting endeavour.


UntitledHello, this is me – Eirwen Malin. I’m not prepared to own up to quite how many years I worked in the Third sector in Wales but take it from me (and my photo) quite a lot. I worked mostly trying to influence policy and practice, advocating on behalf of a range of different groups and issues, researching, running demonstration projects, that type of thing. Trying to get the issues heard above the clamour and competing for funding which would hopefully make a difference.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and life changed a lot.

It took me a while to realise it but apart from threatening my physical voice, (it’s suggested that 75-90% of people with Parkinson’s have some sort of voice, speech or communication difficulties, see here for more information) having Parkinson’s gave me a new and more powerful voice. I could now speak with the authority of “lived experience”, which might help me make a difference for me and my fellow Parkies.

My own experience of diagnosis was not good. I’d been referred to a neurologist to “put my mind at rest”, so it was completely unexpected. I was not diagnosed by a PD specialist and had to be referred on to a clinic, I was told what I needed was information and then sent off to wait for an appointment with no phone number, website address, fact sheet, nothing!

While I waited, for nearly 6 months, I found masses of information, some of it well expressed and clear, some incomprehensible, some coming from authoritative sources, some from people who were living with the condition, some contradictory, some pseudo-scientific, some completely off the wall yet plausible, in short a potential minefield! Now I am a reasonably competent person, who quite enjoys and is able to read and make sense of research papers, understand the statistics, weigh up the arguments and generally make sense of what’s available. However lots of people with Parkinson’s will not be like me.

So, now I thought maybe I could use my new voice to shout out for the need for Patient Education.

I signed up as a volunteer facilitator for Parkinson’s UK’s Self-Management Programme.

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It’s an excellent course, based on work long championed by Dr Kate Lorig at Stanford:

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I have seen it help people to gain confidence and regain a measure of control over their lives. I would thoroughly recommend it, however, 6 half day sessions can’t provide the on-going information about medical, social and lifestyle adjustments that are required to live as well as possible with Parkinson’s. Sometimes one needs almost daily updates to manage the complex and peskily changing symptoms. After all the patient is the only one who is there 24/7/365! They must know where to find information and importantly what questions to ask. I meet far too many people desperately seeking guidance.

The opportunity arose to apply for a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship, as the strapline says the idea is “Travel to learn – return to inspire”.

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Established in 1965, following the death of Sir Winston Churchill, the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust hands out 150 fellowships each year providing a unique opportunity for UK citizens to travel overseas with the goal of bringing back fresh ideas and new solutions to today’s issues, for the benefit of others in the UK.

At the end of a quite lengthy application process which has whittled over 1000 application down to about 150 Fellowships I feel very honoured, “Yippee”, to have been successful in the Medical Practice and Education category alongside a CEO of an NHS Trust, Doctors, Nurses, Researchers etc, Yikes!

My quest is to find new ideas for Patient Education. I am focussing particularly in the field of degenerative neurological conditions. This area is particularly tricky because I think it’s reasonable to say that even the experts still have much to learn and the multi-faceted nature of the conditions and their symptoms result in the need for a team of medical practitioners to support the patient making it even more difficult to provide consistent information. The patient has to know whats going on.

For my fellowship, I will be travelling to USA and Argentina.

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Yippee, exciting trips, but once again Yikes, the journeys are long, I’ll get even stiffer, and I don’t do well in crowds or queues. It’s a good job that my partner can come and help with the stressful bits.

I’ve tried to cover as many perspectives as I can think of but I’d welcome ideas from readers. I’ll try to fit them in.

A bit more detail on the US trip July-August 2017.

New York

A meeting with the Michael J Fox Foundation. I found lots of information on their website, it seems like a good place to start.

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I’m hoping to visit New York University’s Electronic Media Patient Education Initiative but still waiting for confirmation

I’m excited to be going to visit Dance for PD in Brooklyn. They do some fantastic work getting people moving and I’m sure there is much to learn.

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I’ll be talking with the charismatic David Leventhal and other staff to ask how they see their educational role. Most important I want to get feedback from their participants. I have developed a one-woman storytelling performance Sorting the Sock Drawer which I will use to stimulate discussion.

San Francisco area

I’m going to see Dr Kate Lorig (mentioned above) and hoping to talk to some people who will be at Stanford on a one-week course.

University of California San Francisco Parkinson’s Disease Clinic and Research Centre. Really clearly written information on their website that I wish I had found earlier.

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By the way I’ll be packing my cheesecloth tunic and flares – it’s the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” with apologies to younger readers who don’t remember!

Denver

I will meet Professor Cynthia McRae, a behavioural psychologist who focusses on the impact of non-medical symptoms such as quality of life, depression, loneliness, and other psychological factors that are often associated with Parkinson’s disease, but are not always included within medical research.

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Professor Cynthia McRae

She said “If there is such a thing as a good place to have Parkinson’s then Denver is it!” and introduced me to the Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies. They have so much going on I shall spend some time with them. Once again I’ll be using my performance to stimulate a discussion.

Dallas

A flying visit to spend a day with the Parkinson’s Voice Project, their mantra about people with Parkinson’s living “with intent” really speaks to me.

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Pittsburgh and around

University of Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases to be confirmed

I will visit the Wheeling Hospital Parkinson’s Education Centre. Also at Wheeling I will be filling a gap in the schedule to speak with general medical practitioners to ask about issues for them in helping patients with neurodegenerative conditions

Finally Health Plan, in St Clairesville Ohio. Health Plan is a not-for profit health insurance provider that calls itself a health maintenance organisation. It will be interesting to get a business perspective on Patient Education.

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Alongside the formal meetings I hope to just talk to people I meet, tell them what I am doing and get their views. In the end that might be as important as the planned programme.

Planning for Argentina in Oct-Nov still to be finalised.

So once again Yippee it’s going to be fascinating and exciting but Yikes I really do hope I can come home with the goods and help influence the provision of a better system of educating patients than I encountered. I feel the sense of responsibility to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust who have invested faith and funds in my idea and my ability to deliver and even more so to my fellow Parkies diagnosed or not for whom I’d like to make a difference.

I’ll be posting activities, photos, videos of the formal meetings and the more touristy parts of the trips on facebook https://www.facebook.com/EirwenWCTF you can follow my activities, send me messages there os send messages via e-mail eirwenwctf@gmail.com

Wearable Tech 4 Parkinson’s

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We live in an increasingly interconnected technological world.

One can chose to embrace it or ignore it, but I don’t think anyone can do anything to stop it – the masses seem to desire it.

The benefits of all this technology are many, however, for people with Parkinson’s disease. In today’s post we will look at some of the ways wearable technology can be used to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.


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Does anyone still talk to each other? Source: Teachingwithipad

The great Albert Einstein once said that he feared “the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.

While there are certainly many examples of this situation playing out in our modern society today, the quote misses the mark with regards to the application and benefits of such technology.

For example, people with Parkinson’s disease can now communicate with people in the Parkinson’s community (like ourselves) from anywhere the world. They can reach out and share not only their experiences, but also what treatments and remedies have worked for them.

And then there are the other less obvious applications of an interconnected world:

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A schematic illustrating the limited monitoring of Parkinson’s. Source: Riggare

On her fantastic blog, engineer and ‘proud mother’ Sara Riggare posted the image above to illustrate the ridiculous current situation regarding the monitoring of Parkinson’s disease. In 2014, she spent 8,765 hours in self care, applying her own knowledge and experience to managing her Parkinson’s disease (8,765 being the number of hours in a year) and had just 1 hour with her physician.

The schematic perfectly illustrates perfectly how little monitoring people with Parkinson’s receive in the standard healthcare system.

People like Sara, however, are taking matters into their own hands. She has become an enthusiastic proponent of ‘self tracking’:

Self tracking represents a fantastic opportunity not only for people with Parkinson’s disease to track their progress, but also for researchers to build up large databases of information relating to the disease from which new theories/hypotheses/treatment approaches could be generated.

And this is possible on a global scale, only because we are a generation of idiots living in a fully interconnected world.

So what opportunities exist for me to self track?

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Apple Watch. Source: Huffington Post

Recently the technology company Apple announced that it is working on new devices to help track Parkinson’s disease (Click here and here for more on this). The company already offers ResearchKit – a platform available on their iphone.

Apple, however, is actually coming to this party rather late. The Michael J Fox foundation and computer giant Intel formed a partnership back in 2014 to look at wearable technology (Click here to read more about this).

And there are already dozens of applications that can be used on smart phones and tablets. We have previously discussed one such app from a company called uMotif – Click here to read that post.

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umotif. Source: ParkinsonsMovement

In addition, there are other smart phone apps available that readers could try (such as MyTherapyApp) and you can even support new applications as they are being developed (such as Progress Recorder).

 

What if I don’t have time for entering all the details on the smart phone app?

Not a problem.

Why not just wear a recording sensor? The same way you may wear a piece of jewellery. Simple, easy approach and you can just forget that it is even there.

Would you like an interesting example?

This is Utkarsh Tandon.

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He’s a 17 years old student at Cupertino High School. He is also the Founder and CEO of OneRing, an intelligent tool for monitoring Parkinson’s

Yes, you read that correctly – he is just 17 years old. Smart kid, we’ll be watching him.

Why is this technology important?

Until recently out understanding of Parkinson’s has relied entirely on what occurs in the lab and clinic based settings. Now information is being collected 24 hours a day. From sleep quality apps to measuring tremor, all of this technology has several very positive features from the view point of research scientists:

  1. Objective monitoring – rather than subjective measures (eg. clinician’s opinion or subject survey) definitive, replicatable data can be generated.
  2. Continuous monitoring – rather than brief periods of monitoring in an artificial research clinic environment, data can be collected in real world settings on a continuous basis
  3. Data accessibility – rather than pencil and paper collection of results, data can be collected electronically and converted to different formats.
  4. Participant engagement – this included benefits such as getting the community involved with the research, getting feedback about the technology throughout the study, and being able to provide subjects with performance reports on a regular basis.

Is wearable tech only for measuring Parkinson’s disease?

No.

Recently it has also started to aid people with the condition. The best example of this is the story that has most recently captured the attention of the Parkinson’s community here in the UK:

Emma Lawton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at just 29 years of age. Working with Haiyan Zhang (Director of Innovation at Microsoft Research) and colleagues, a bracelet was created that counteracted the tremor in Emma’s wrist.

It’s a good story.

Other tech is helping to make life easier for people with Parkinson’s disease – just have a look at what LiftWare is doing.

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The Liftware stablising spoon. Source: The Verge

In a clinical study, the Liftware spoons reduced shaking of the spoon bowl by an average of 76 per cent (Click here to read more about this).

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Anupam Pathak – founder of LiftWare. Source: ET

Liftware has now been aquired by Verily Life Sciences – an independent subsidiary of Alphabet Inc (formerly of Google).

So what does it all mean?

The point of this post was to make readers aware of some of the technological resources that are available to them in this modern age. Using these tools, we can quickly collect a vast amount of information regarding all aspects of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. And it also offers folks the opportunity to get involved with research indirectly (if they have a fear of university hospitals!).

There is also another element to all of this recording of information about Parkinson’s disease that is not immediately apparent: we are potentially (and hopefully) the last generations of human being that will be affected by Parkinson’s disease. If current research efforts allow us to block or dramatically slow the condition in the near future, there may not be a disease for our descendants to worry about. While this is a very worthy goal, there is also a responsibility on the current generation to record, document and learn as much as we can about the condition so that those future generations will have information at hand regarding a forgotten medical condition.

Some folks are already doing this in their own creative ways. For example, we recommend all readers subscribe to PD365 –  a fantastic project in which David Sangster and Emma Lawton (her of the bracelet described above) will be making one short video each day about life with Parkinson’s disease. Raising awareness about the condition and providing intimate insight into basic daily life with PD.

Here is Emma’s first video:

And here is David’s first video:

And this idea is really important.

Consider the great fire of London in 1666. It is estimated that the fire destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants (Source: Wikipedia), and yet our best sources of information regarding the events of that catastrophe are limited to just a few books like the diary of Samuel Pepys.

This may seem like a silly example, but the premise stands. Given all of the technology we have available today, it would be a great failure for our generation not to be able to provide a thorough source of information regarding this disease.

That said, have a think about getting involved.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Raconteur

Stress and Parkinson’s disease

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Stress.

We all suffer it. Whether it is work related, relationship related, or simply self-induced, we humans foolishly put a great deal of pressure on our bodies.

Many pieces of research suggest that this pressure takes a toll on our health, which could lead to long-term conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

Recently some Korean researchers have identified a stress-related hormone that could have beneficial effects for Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post, we will review their recently published research and look at what it means for people with Parkinson’s disease.


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Source: Islamicity

Shortly before leaving the role of President of the United States of America, ex-President Barrack Obama was asked about the stress that comes with the job, and his answer was interesting. He suggested that it is important to take a ‘long view’ of events and not to get bogged down by the weight of everything going on around you:

Despite these sage words, it is difficult not to notice the impact that his previous job has had on the man:

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What a stress can do to a person. Source: Reddit

Stress seems to be a major part of modern life for many people – some people even indicate that they need it and that they thrive on it. But this pressure that we put on our bodies tends to have a damaging effect on our general health. And there is evidence that that stress may even lead to long term consequences such as cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Causality, however, is very difficult to determine in science.

The best we can do is suggest that a particular variable (such as stress) may increase one’s risk of developing a particular condition (such as Parkinson’s disease).

So what do we know about stress and Parkinson’s disease?

This is Professor Bas Bloem.

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Prof Bloem – no stress here. Source: NRC

He’s awesome.

Professor Bloem is a consultant neurologist at the Department of Neurology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (the Netherlands). He is also one of the researchers behind ParkinsonNet – an innovative healthcare concept that now consists of 64 professional networks for people with Parkinson’s disease covering all of the Netherlands.

In 2010, his research group noticed something interesting:

Bloem

Title: Artistic occupations are associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Haaxma CA, Borm GF, van der Linden D, Kappelle AC, Bloem BR.
Journal: J Neurol. 2015 Sep;262(9):2171-6.
PMID: 26138540               (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In their study, Prof Bloem and his colleagues conducted a case–controlled analysis of 750 men with Parkinson’s disease (onset ≥40 years) and 1300 healthy men, which involved the participants completing a questionnaire about their occupational history. As expected (based on previous reports), they found that farming was associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (click here for more on this).

Interestingly, artistic occupations late in life were associated with a reduced risk of subsequent Parkinson’s disease. Another interesting observation from the study was that no initial occupation (early in life) predicted Parkinson’s disease, which the researchers proposed indicated that the premotor phase of the disease starts later in life.

One interpretation of this finding is that creative people are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. An alternative theory, however, may be that artist jobs are associated with a less stressful, more relaxed lifestyle.

Could it be that the lower levels of stress associated with artistic occupations may be having an impact on the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease?

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

Consider different kinds of stress. Research suggests that people who undergo tremendous emotional stress have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. For example, there is the case of ex-prisoners of war:

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Title:Neurological disease in ex-Far-East prisoners of war
Authors: Gibberd FB, Simmonds JP.
Journal: Lancet. 1980 Jul 19;2(8186):135-7.
PMID: 6105303

At the end of World war II, a neurological unit was set up at Queen Mary’s Hospital (Roehampton) to treat Ex-Far East prisoners of war. 4684 individuals were referred to the unit, of these 679 were found to have neurological disease (most of these – 593 cases – were loss of sight and peripheral nerve damage).

In follow up work in the 1970s, however, it was found that many of these individuals had gone on to develop other neurological conditions (dementia, multiple sclerosis, etc). Of interest to us, though was the finding that across the entire group of ex-prisoners investigated (4684 individuals), Parkinson’s disease was apparent in 24 of them – this is a frequency 5x that of the general population!

Even in animal models of Parkinson’s disease, emotional stress seems to exaccerbate the neurodegeneration that is being modelled:

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Title: Stress accelerates neural degeneration and exaggerates motor symptoms in a rat model ofParkinson’s disease.
Authors: Smith LK, Jadavji NM, Colwell KL, Katrina Perehudoff S, Metz GA.
Journal: Eur J Neurosci. 2008 Apr;27(8):2133-46.
PMID: 18412632                  (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The investigators in this study demonstrated that chronic stress exaggerates the motor/behavioural deficits in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. In addition, the stress resulted in a greater loss of dopamine neurons in the brains of these rats.

For an interesting review of the effect of stress in Parkinson’s disease – Click here.

Interesting. So what did the Korean researchers – you mentioned above – find this week?

Something interesting.

This is Dr Yoon-Il Lee.

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Source: Dgist

He’s a dude.

He is a senior research scientists at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in Daegu Metropolitan City, South Korea.

Recently, his group has collaborated with Professor Yunjong Lee’s research team published this research report:

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Title: Hydrocortisone-induced parkin prevents dopaminergic cell death via CREB pathway inParkinson’s disease model
Authors: Ham S, Lee YI, Jo M, Kim H, Kang H, Jo A, Lee GH, Mo YJ, Park SC, Lee YS, Shin JH, Lee Y.
Journal: Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 3;7(1):525. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-00614-w.
PMID: 28366931         (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

Dr Lee and his colleagues began this study with cells were engineered to produce a bioluminescent signal when a gene called Parkin was activated. Parkin is a Parkinson’s associated gene as genetic mutations in this gene can result in carriers developing a juvenile-onset/early-onset form of Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers then conducted an enormous screening experiment to find agents that turn on the Parkin gene. They applied a library of 1172 FDA-approved drugs (from Selleck Chemicals) to these cells – one drug per cell culture – and looked at which cell cultures began to produce a bioluminescent signal. They found 5 drugs that not only made the cells bioluminescent, but also resulted in Parkin protein being produced at levels 2-3 times higher than normal. Those drugs were:

  • Deferasirox – an iron chelator (interesting considering our previous post)
  • Vorinostat – a cancer drug (for treating lymphoma)
  • Metformin – a diabetes medication
  • Clindamycin – an antibiotic
  • Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone produced the highest levels of Parkin (Interestingly, hydrocortisone also did not increase the activity of PERK, an indicator of endoplasmic reticulum stress, while the other drugs did).

What is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is the name for the hormone ‘cortisol’ when supplied as a medication.

Ok, so what is cortisol?

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid (a type of hormone) produced from cholesterol by enzymes in the cortex of the adrenal gland, which sits on top of the kidneys. It is produced in response to stress (physical or emotional)

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The location of the adrenal glands. Source: Cancer

Cortisol helps us to deal with physical or emotional stress by reducing the activity of certain bodily functions – such as the immune system – so that the body can focus all of it’s energies toward dealing with the stress at hand.

Now generally, the functions of cortisol are supposed to be short-lived – long enough for the body to deal with the offending stressor and then levels go back to normal. But the normal levels of cortisol also fluctuate across the span of the day, with levels peaking around 8-9am:

 

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A graph of cortisol levels over the day. Source: HealthTap

 

Ok, so what did the Korean researchers do next?

Dr Lee and his colleagues gave the hydrocortisone drug to cell cultures which they then stressed (causing cell death). Hydrocortisone protected the cells from dying, and (importantly) it achieved this feat in a manner that was dependent on parkin activation. In cells that do not naturally have parkin, hydrocortisone was found to have no effect on cell survival.

Next the researchers treated mice with hydrocortisone before they then modelled Parkinson’s disease using the neurotoxin 6-OHDA. Hydrocortisone treatment resulted in approximate a two-fold increase in levels of parkin within particular areas of the brain. Without hydrocortisone treatment, the mice suffered the loss of approximately 45% of their dopamine neurons. Mice pre-treated with hydrocortisone, however, demonstrated enhanced dopamine neuron survival.

The researchers concluded that a sufficient physiological supply of hydrocortisone was required for protection of the brain, and that hydrocortisone treatment could be further tested as a means of maintaining high levels of parkin in the brain.

So what do we know about cortisol in Parkinson’s disease?

So this is where the story gets interesting;

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Title: Cortisol is higher in parkinsonism and associated with gait deficit.
Authors: Charlett A, Dobbs RJ, Purkiss AG, Wright DJ, Peterson DW, Weller C, Dobbs SM.
Journal: Acta Neurol Scand. 1998 Feb;97(2):77-85.
PMID: 9517856

The researchers who conducted this study were interested in the role of cortisol in Parkinson’s disease. They measured cortisol levels in the blood of 96 subjects with Parkinson’s disease and 170 control subjects.  They found that cortisol levels were 20% higher in the subjects with Parkinson’s disease, and that MAO-B inhibitor treatment for Parkinson’s (Selegiline) reduced cortisol levels.

And MAO-B inhibitors are not the only Parkinson’s medication associated with reduced levels of cortisol:

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Title: Acute levodopa administration reduces cortisol release in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Müller T, Welnic J, Muhlack S.
Journal: J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2007 Mar;114(3):347-50.
PMID: 16932991

In this study the researchers found that cortisol levels started to decrease significantly just 30 minutes after L-dopa was taken.

Whether this lowering of cortisol levels may have any kind of detrimental effect on Parkinson’s disease is yet to be determined and required further investigation.

Is hydrocortisone or cortisol used in the clinic?

Yes it is.

Hydrocortisone is used to treat rheumatism, skin diseases, and allergies.

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Hydrocortisone tablets. Source: Wisegeeks

Thus, there is the potential for another example of drug repurposing here. But the drug is not without side effects, which include:

  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Mood changes
  • Acne, dry skin, thinning skin, bruising or discoloration;
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased sweating
  • Headache, dizziness, spinning sensation;
  • nausea, stomach pain

For the full list of potential side effects – click here.

So what does it all mean?

Researchers in Korea have recently found that hydrocortisone (cortisol) can increase levels of Parkinson’s associated protein Parkin in cells, which in turn has a positive, neuroprotective effect on models of Parkinson’s disease.

We will now wait to see if the results can be independently replicated before attempting to take this drug to clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease. Any replication of the study should involve a range of treatment regimes so that we can determine if delayed administration can also be beneficial (this would involve delaying hydrocortisone treatment until after the neurotoxin has been given). Those studies could also look at the inflammatory effect in the brains as hydrocortisone has previously been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Interesting times. Stay tuned.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Under absolutely no circumstances should anyone reading this material consider it medical advice. The material provided here is for educational purposes only. Before considering or attempting any change in your treatment regime, PLEASE consult with your doctor or neurologist. While some of the drugs discussed on this website are clinically available, they may have serious side effects. We urge caution and professional consultation before altering any treatment regime. SoPD can not be held responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided here. 


The banner for today’s post was sourced from ZetaYarwood

Old dogs, new tricks – repurposing drugs for Parkinson’s

 

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Exciting news this week from the world of neurodegenerative research. Researchers have identified two clinically available drugs that display neuroprotective properties.

The drugs – Dibenzoylmethane and Trazodone – are currently used to treat cancer and depression, respectively.

In this post, we will review the research and discuss what it could mean for folks with Parkinson’s disease.


Drugs

Old drugs – new tricks? Source: Repurposingdrugs101

As you may have heard from media reports (for examples, click here, here and here), researchers have identified two clinically available drugs that may help in the fight against neurodegenerative conditions, like Parkinson’s disease.

The re-purposing of clinically available drugs is the focus of much attention within the Parkinson’s community as it represents a means of bringing treatments to the clinic faster. The traditional lengthy clinical trial process that is required in the development of new medications means getting a new drug to market for neurodegeneration can take up to 15 years, as the trials run over several years each (and there are three phases to pass through).

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Shortening the wait. Source: Austinpublishing

In an age of smart phones and instant gratification, who has that kind of patience? ( #Wewontwait ).

Thus, re-purposing of available drugs represents a more rapid means of bringing new treatments/therapies to the Parkinson’s community.

So what is the new research all about?

This is Professor Giovanna Mallucci.

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Prof Giovanna Mallucci. Source: MRC

She’s awesome.

She led the team from the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit (University of Leicester) that conducted the research and she is now based at the University of Cambridge.

Her area of research interest is understanding mechanisms of neurodegeneration, with a particular focus on prion and Alzheimer’s disease.

A few years ago, her group published this report:

Nature

Title: Sustained translational repression by eIF2α-P mediates prion neurodegeneration.
Authors: Moreno JA, Radford H, Peretti D, Steinert JR, Verity N, Martin MG, Halliday M, Morgan J, Dinsdale D, Ortori CA, Barrett DA, Tsaytler P, Bertolotti A, Willis AE, Bushell M, Mallucci GR.
Journal: Nature. 2012 May 6;485(7399):507-11.
PMID: 22622579              (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, Prof Mallucci’s group were interested in the biological events that were occurring in the brain following infection of mice with prion disease – another neurodegenerative condition. They found that a sudden loss of protein associated with the connections between neurons (those connections being called synapses) occurred at 9 weeks post infection. This led them to investigate the production of protein and they found that an increase in the levels of phosphorylation of a protein called eIF2alpha was associated with the reduction in protein synthesis occurring at 9 weeks post infection.

What is Phosphorylation?

Phosphorylation of a protein is basically the process of turning it on or off – making it active or inactive – for a particular function.

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Phosphorylation of a kinase protein. Source: Nature

And what is eIF2alpha?

Eukaryotic Translation Initiation Factor 2 Alpha is (as the label on the can suggests) a translation initiation factor. This means that this particular protein functions in the early steps of the production of protein. That is to say, eIF2alpha has important roles in the first steps – the initiation – of making other proteins.

Roles of eIF2 kinases in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease

eIF2alpha’s role in neurodegeneration. Source: Frontiers

The increased phosphorylation of eIF2alpha results in the inactivation of eIF2alpha and therefore the transient shutdown of protein production.

This shutdown in protein production can serve as an important ‘checkpoint’ when a cell is stressed. By blocking general protein production, a damaged or stressed cell can have the opportunity to either recuperate or be eliminated (if the damage is beyond repair).

The shutdown can also be caused by the unfolded protein response (or UPR). The unfolded protein response is a protective mechanism triggered by rising levels of misfolded proteins.

What are misfolded proteins?

When proteins are being produced, they need to be folded into the correct shape to do their job. Things can turn ugly very quickly for a cell if protein are being misfolded or only partially folded.

prions

Two proteins. Guess which is the misfolded protein. Source: Biogeekery

In fact, misfolded proteins are suspected of being responsible for many of the neurodegenerative conditions we know of (including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc). Thus the unfolded protein response gives a cell time to stop protein production, degrade & dispose of any misfolded proteins, and then re-activate proteins involved with increasing the production again.

And Prof Mallucci’s group found an increase in the phosphorylation of eIF2alpha?

Yes. At 9 weeks post infection with prions, there is a decrease in the proteins required for maintaining the connections between neurons and an increase in the phosphorylation of eIF2alpha.

The interesting thing is that the researchers found that levels of phosphorylated eIF2alpha increased throughout the course of study.

So, the researchers asked themselves if promoting a recovery in protein production in the cells in neuroprotective. To test this they used a protein called GADD34, which is a specific eIF2alpha phosphatase (a phosphatase is a protein that dephosphates a protein). By introducing a lot of GADD34 in the cells, the researchers were able to re-activate eIF2alpha, rescue the connectivity between neurons and protect the cells from dying.

A cool trick, huh?

This report established the importance of eIF2alpha in the early stages of neurodegeneration, and Prof Mallucci and her group next decided to conduct a massive screening study of currently available medications to see which could be used to target eIF2alpha levels.

And that research gave rise to the report that caused so much excitement this week. This report here:

Brain
Title: Repurposed drugs targeting eIF2α-P-mediated translational repression prevent neurodegeneration in mice
Authors: Halliday M, Radford H, Zents KAM, Molloy C, Moreno JA, Verity NC, Smith E, Ortori CA, Barrett DA, Bushell M, Mallucci GR.
Journal: Brain, 2017 Epub early online publication
PMID: N/A         (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The investigators began by testing 1,040 compounds (that represent many of the clinically available drugs we have) on tiny microscopic worms (called C.elegans). These worms represent a useful experimental model for screening drugs as many aspects of biology can be examined. These worms were exposed to both a chemical (called tunicamycin, which induces the unfolded protein response we were talking about above) and one of the 1040 compounds.

Of the 1040 compounds tested, the investigators selected the 20 that provided the best protection to the worms. They next analysed those top 20 compounds for their ability to reduce levels of phosphorylated eIF2alpha in cells. Cells were engineered to produce a bioluminescent signal when eIF2alpha was phosphorylated. The researchers used a potent blocker of the unfolded protein response (called GSK2606414) and a drug called ISRIB (which is an experimental drug which reverses the effects of eIF2alpha phosphorylation) as controls for the experiment.

Their results were interesting:

Figure1

The results of the top 20 drugs screened. Source: Brain

As you can see from the graph above, there were five compounds (highlighted with ***) that provided a similar level of reduction as the ISRIB (control) drug:

  • Azadirachtin – which is the active ingredient in many pesticides.
  • Dibenzoylmethane – a cancer treatment.
  • Proguanil – a medication used to treat and prevent malaria.
  • Trazodone – an antidepressant used to treat depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Trifluoperazine – an antipsychotic of the phenothiazine chemical class.

The investigators decided not to further investigate Azadirachtin as it is a pesticide and displays a poor ability to penetrant the blood-brain-barrier – the protective layer surrounding the brain. They also rejected Proguanil because while it is safe to use in humans, it is toxic in mice. This detail limited the amount of preclinical testing for neurodegeneration that the researchers could do. And finally Trifluoperazine was eliminated as it should not be used in the elderly populations (apparently it ‘increases the risk of death’!), which obviously limited it’s further utility given that age is a major determinant of neurodegeneration.

This selection process left the researchers with Dibenzoylmethane and Trazodone.

The researchers found that both of these drugs can cross the blood-brain-barrier and were able to prevent neurodegeneration and rescue behavioural deficits in prion-infected mice. And they observed no toxic effects of these treatments in other organs (such as the pancreas). The drugs restore correct protein production and increased the survival of the prion-infected mice.

Taking the study one step further, Prof Mallucci and her group asked if the drugs could be effective in a model of another neurodegenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease. To investigated this, they treated rTg4510 mice with both of the drugs. rTg4510 mice produce a lot of a human protein (called tau) that has a particular mutation (known as P301L), which results in the onset of Alzheimer’s like pathology at an early age. The rTg4510 mice received either trazodone or Dibenzoylmethane on a daily basis from 4 months of age and were examined at 8 months of age. The researchers found significantly less cell loss and shrinkage in the brains of the mice treated with one of the two drugs when compared to rTg4510 mice that received no treatment.

The researchers concluded that “these compounds therefore represent potential new disease-modifying treatments for dementia. Trazodone in particular, a licensed drug, should now be tested in clinical trials in patients”.

As Professor Mallucci suggested to the press: “We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We could know in 2-3 years whether this approach can slow down disease progression, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders. Interestingly, trazodone has been used to treat the symptoms of patients in later stages of dementia, so we know it is safe for this group.  We now need to find out whether giving the drug to patients at an early stage could help arrest or slow down the disease through its effects on this pathway.”

This is great for Alzheimer’s disease, but what about Parkinson’s?

Well, the researchers did not test the drugs in models of Parkinson’s disease. But we can assume that several research groups are going to be testing this drug in the near future… if they aren’t already!

But have increased levels of eIF2alpha been seen in Parkinson’s disease?

Great question. And the answer is: Yes.

ParkUPS

Title: Activation of the unfolded protein response in Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Hoozemans JJ, van Haastert ES, Eikelenboom P, de Vos RA, Rozemuller JM, Scheper W.
Journal: Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2007 Mar 16;354(3):707-11.
PMID: 17254549

In this study the investigators analysed the levels of Unfolded Protein Response activation in the postmortem brains of people who passed away with or without Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, they focused their analysis on the substantia nigra (the region where the dopamine neurons reside and which is most severely affected in Parkinson’s).

The researchers found that both eIF2alpha and a protein called PERK (also known as protein kinase-like ER kinase – which phosphalates eIF2alpha) are present in the dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra of brains from people with Parkinson’s disease, but not in healthy control brains. And as the graph below shows, the investigators noted that there was a trend towards the levels of these proteins peaking within the first five years after diagnosis.

graph

eIF2alpha & PERK levels in the brain. Source: ScienceDirect

Similar postmortem analysis studies have also highlighted the increased levels of Unfolded Protein Response activation in the Parkinsonian brain (Click here to read more on this).

The increase in Unfolded Protein Response activation could be a common feature across different neurodegenerative conditions, suggesting that trazodone and dibenzoylmethane could be used widely to slow the progress of various conditions.

Another connection to Parkinson’s disease is the finding that high levels of the Parkinson’s associated protein alpha synuclein can cause the Unfolded Protein Response:

Activation
Title: Induction of the unfolded protein response by α-synuclein in experimental models of Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Bellucci A, Navarria L, Zaltieri M, Falarti E, Bodei S, Sigala S, Battistin L, Spillantini M, Missale C, Spano P.
Journal: J Neurochem. 2011 Feb;116(4):588-605.
PMID: 21166675       (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The researchers in this study found that introducing large amounts of alpha synuclein into cell cultures results in the initiation of the unfolded protein response. They also observed this phenomenon in genetically engineered mice that produce large amounts of alpha synuclein.

Thus, there is some evidence for eIF2alpha and unfolded protein response-related activities in Parkinson’s disease

So is there are evidence that Dibenzoylmethane might be neuroprotective for Parkinson’s disease?

Yes there is (sort of):

Basic RGB

Title: A dibenzoylmethane derivative protects dopaminergic neurons against both oxidative stress and endoplasmic reticulum stress.
Authors: Takano K, Kitao Y, Tabata Y, Miura H, Sato K, Takuma K, Yamada K, Hibino S, Choshi T, Iinuma M, Suzuki H, Murakami R, Yamada M, Ogawa S, Hori O.
Journal: Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2007 Dec;293(6):C1884-94. Epub 2007 Oct 3.
PMID: 17913843             (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The investigators of this study found a derivative of dibenzoylmethane which they called 14-26 (chemical name 2,2′-dimethoxydibenzoylmethane) displayed neuroprotective functions both in cell culture and animal models of Parkinson’s disease. The researchers did not look at the unfolded protein response or eIF2alpha and PERK levels, nor did they determine if dibenzoylmethane itself exhibits neuroprotective properties.

This may now need to be re-addressed.

And is there any evidence trazodone having neuroprotective effects in other neurodegenerative conditions?

Yes.

For a review of the neuroprotective effects of trazodone (and other anti-psychotic/anti-depressant drugs) in Huntington’s Disease – Click here.

This sounds very positive for Parkinson’s disease then, no?

Weeeeeell, there is a word of caution to be thrown in here:

There have been reports in the past of trazodone causing motor-related issues in the elderly. Such as this one:

Trazodone

Title: Can trazodone induce parkinsonism?
Authors: Albanese A, Rossi P, Altavista MC.
Journal: Clin Neuropharmacol. 1988 Apr;11(2):180-2.
PMID: 3378227

This report was a single case study of a 74 year old lady who developed depression after losing her sister with whom she lived. She was prescribed trazodone, which was effective in improving her mood. Just several months later, however, she began presenting Parkinsonian symptoms.

Firstly the onset of a resting tremor in the left arm, then a slowing of movement and a masking of the face. The attending physician withdrew the trazodone treatment and within two months the symptoms began to disappear, with no symptoms apparent 12 months later.

And unfortunately this is not an isolated case – other periodic reports of trazodone-induced motor issues have been reported (Click here and here for examples). And this is really strange as Trazodone apparently has no dopaminergic activity that we are aware of. It is a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI); it should not affect the re-uptake of norepinephrine or dopamine within the brain.

Thus, we may need to proceed with caution with the use of Trazodone for Parkinson’s disease.

So what does it all mean?

The repurposing of old drugs to treat alternative conditions is a very good idea. It means that we can test treatments that we usually know a great deal about (with regards to human usage) on diseases that they were not initially designed for, in a rapid manner.

Recently, scientists have identified two clinically available drugs that have displayed neuroprotection in two different models of neurodegeneration. Without doubt there will now be follow up investigations, before rapid efforts are made to set up clinical trials to test the efficacy of these drugs in humans suffering from dementia.

Whether these two treatments are useful for Parkinson’s disease still needs to be determined. There is evidence supporting the idea that they may well be, but caution should always be taken in how we proceed. This does not mean that other clinically available drugs can not be tested for Parkinson’s disease, however, and there are numerous clinical trials currently underway testing several of them (Click here to read more on this).

We’ll let you know when we hear anything about these efforts.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Under absolutely no circumstances should anyone reading this material consider it medical advice. The material provided here is for educational purposes only. Before considering or attempting any change in your treatment regime, PLEASE consult with your doctor or neurologist. While some of the drugs discussed on this website are clinically available, they may have serious side effects. We urge caution and professional consultation before altering any treatment regime. SoPD can not be held responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided here. 


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Linkedin

Iron, life force, and Parkinson’s disease

pranaLogo

‘Prana’ is a Hindu Sanskrit word meaning “life force”.

An Australian biotech company has chosen this word for their name.

Recently Prana Biotechnology Ltd announced some exciting results from their Parkinson’s disease research programme.

In today’s post we will look at what the company is doing, the science underlying the business plan, and review the results they have so far.


adpd2017

Source: ADPD2017

At the end of March, over 3000 researchers in the field of neurodegeneration gathered in the Austrian capital of Vienna for the 13th International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases and Related Neurological Disorders (also known as ADPD2017).

crop

The Vienna city hall. Source: EUtourists

A lot of interesting new research in the field of Parkinson’s disease was presented at the conference (we will look at some other presentation in future posts), but one was of particular interest to us here at SoPD HQ.

The poster entitled: Abstract: 104 – PBT434 prevents neuronal loss, motor function and cognitive impairment in preclinical models of movement disorders by modulation of intracellular iron’, was presented by Associate Professor David Finkelstein, of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health (Melbourne, Australia).

Unfortunately the ADPD2017 conference’s scientific programme search engine does not allow for individual abstracts to be linked to on the web so if you would like to read the abstract, you will need to click here for the search engine page and search for ‘PBT434’ or ‘Finkelstein’ in the appropriate boxes.

Prof Finkelstein was presenting preclinical research that had been conducted by an Australian biotech company called Prana Biotechnology Ltd.

promo1

Source: Prana Biotechnology Ltd

What does the company do?

Prana Biotechnology Ltd has a large portfolio of over 1000 small chemical agents that they have termed ‘MPACs’ (or Metal Protein Attenuating Compounds). These compounds are designed to interrupt the interactions between particular metals and target proteins in the brain. The goal of this interruption is to prevent deterioration of brain cells in neurodegenerative conditions.

For Parkinson’s disease, the company is proposing a particular iron chelator they have called PBT434.

What is an iron chelator?

Iron chelator therapy involves the removal of excess iron from the body with special drugs. Chelate is from the Greek word ‘chela’ meaning “claw”.

chelationtherapy_edited-01

Chelator therapy. Source: Stanford

Iron overload in the body is a common medical problem, sometimes arising from disorders of increased iron absorption such as hereditary haemochromatosis. Iron chelator therapy represents one method of reducing the levels of iron in the body.

But why is iron overload a problem?

iron

Iron. Source: GlobalSpec

Good question. It involves the basic properties of iron.

Iron is a chemical element (symbol Fe). It has the atomic number 26 and by mass it is the most common element on Earth (it makes up much of Earth’s outer and inner core). It is absolutely essential for cellular life on this planet as it is involved with the interactions between proteins and enzymes, critical in the transport of oxygen, and required for the regulation of cell growth and differentiation.

So why then – as Rosalind asked in Shakespeare’s As You Like It – “can one desire too much of a good thing?”

Well, if you think back to high school chemistry class you may recall that there are these things called electrons. And if you have a really good memory, you will recall that the chemical hydrogen has one electron, while iron has 26 (hence the atomic number 26).

atoms

The electrons of iron and hydrogen. Source: Hypertonicblog

Iron has a really interesting property: it has the ability to either donate or take electrons. And this ability to mediate electron transfer is one of the reasons why iron is so important in the body.

Iron’s ability to donate and accept electrons means that when there is a lot of iron present it can inadvertently cause the production of free radicals. We have previously discussed free radicals (Click here for that post), but basically a free radical is an unstable molecule – unstable because they are missing electrons.

imgres

How free radicals and antioxidants work. Source: h2miraclewater

In an unstable format, free radicals bounce all over the place, reacting quickly with other molecules, trying to capture the much needed electron to re-gain stability. Free radicals will literally attack the nearest stable molecule, to steal an electron. This leads to the “attacked” molecule becoming a free radical itself, and thus a chain reaction is started. Inside a living cell this can cause terrible damage, ultimately killing the cell.

Antioxidants can help try and restore the balance, but in the case of iron overload iron doctors will prescribe chelator treatment to deal with the situation more efficiently. By soaking up excess iron, we can limit the amount of damage caused by the surplus of iron.

So what research has been done regarding iron content and the Parkinsonian brain?

Actually, quite a lot.

In 1968, Dr Kenneth Earle used an X-ray based technique to examine the amount of iron in the substantia nigra of people with Parkinson’s disease (Source). The substantial nigra is one of the regions in the brain most badly damaged by the condition – it is where most of the brain’s dopamine neurones resided.

d1ea3d21c36935b85043b3b53f2edb1f87ab7fa6

The dark pigmented dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra are reduced in the Parkinson’s disease brain (right). Source:Memorangapp

Earle examined 11 samples and compared them to unknown number of control samples and his results were a little startling:

The concentration of iron in Parkinsonian samples was two times higher than that of the control samples.

Since that first study, approximately 30 investigations have been made into levels of iron in the Parkinsonian brain. Eleven of those studies have replicated the Earle study by looking at postmortem tissue. They have used different techniques and the results have varied somewhat:

  • Sofic et al. (1988)                             1.8x increase in iron levels
  • Dexter et al. (1989)                         1.3x increase in iron levels
  • Uitti et al. (1989)                              1.1x increase in iron levels
  • Riederer et al 1989                         1.3x increase in iron levels
  • Griffiths and Crossman (1993)     2.0x increase in iron levels
  • Mann et al. (1994)                           1.6x increase in iron levels
  • Loeffler et al. (1995)                       0.9   (lower)
  • Galazka-Friedman et al., 1996     1.0   (no difference)
  • Wypijewska et al. (2010)               1.0   (no difference)
  • Visanji et al, 2013                            1.7x increase in iron levels

Overall, however, there does appear to be a trend in the direction of higher levels of iron in the Parkinsonian brains. A recent meta-analysis of all this data confirmed this assessment as well as noting an increase in the caudate putamen (the region of the brain where the dopamine neuron branches release their dopamine – Click here for that study).

Brain imaging of iron (using transcranial sonography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)) has also demonstrated a strong correlation between iron levels in the substantia nigra region and Parkinson’s disease severity/duration (Click here and here to read more on this).

Thus, there appears to be an increase of iron in the regions most affected by Parkinson’s disease and this finding has lead researchers to ask whether reducing this increase in iron may help in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

How could iron overload be bad in Parkinson’s disease?

Well in addition to causing the production of free radicals, there are many possible ways in which iron accumulation could be aggravating cell loss in Parkinson’s disease.

983245.fig.001

Possible causes and consequences of iron overload in Parkinson’s disease. Source: Hindawi

High levels of iron can cause the oxidation of dopamine, which results in the production of hydrogen peroxide (H2O– a reactive oxygen species – the stuff that is used to bleach hair and is also used as a propellant in rocketry!). This reaction can cause further oxidative stress that can then lead to a range of consequences including protein misfolding, lipid peroxidation (which can cause the accumulation of the Parkinson’s associated protein alpha synuclein), mitochondrial dysfunction, and activation of immune cells in the brain.

And this is just a taster of the consequences.

For further reading on this topic we recommend two very good reviews – click here and here.

Ok, so iron overload is bad, but what was the research presented in Austria?

The abstract:

Title: PBT434 prevents neuronal loss, motor function and cognitive impairment in preclinical models of movement disorders by modulation of intracellular iron
Authors: D. Finkelstein, P. Adlard, E. Gautier, J. Parsons, P. Huggins, K. Barnham, R. Cherny
Location: C01.a Posters – Theme C – Alpha-Synucleinopathies

The researchers at Prana Biotechnology Ltd assessed the potential of one of their candidate drugs, PBT434, in both cell culture and animal models of Parkinson’s disease. The PBT434 drug was selected for further investigation based on its performance in cell culture assays designed to test the inhibition of oxidative stress and iron-mediated aggregation of Parkinson’s associated proteins like alpha synuclein.

PBT434 significantly reduced the accumulation of alpha synuclein and markers of oxidative stress, and prevented neuronal loss.

The investigators also demonstrated that orally administered PBT434 readily crossed the blood brain barrier and entered the brain. In addition the drug was well-tolerated in the experimental animals and improved motor function in toxin-induced (MPTP and 6-hydroxydopamine) and transgenic mouse models of Parkinson’s disease (alpha synuclein -A53T and tau – rTg4510).

These results are in agreement with previous studies that have looked at iron chelator therapy in models of Parkinson’s disease (Click here, here and here for some examples)

Interestingly, PBT434 also demonstrated neuroprotective properties in animal models of multiple systems atrophy (or MSA). Suggesting that perhaps iron chelation could be a broad neuroprotective approach.

The researchers concluded that this preclinical data demonstrates the efficacy of PBT434 as a clinical candidate for Parkinson’s disease. PBT434 shows a strong toxicology profile and favourable therapeutic activity.  Prana is preparing its pre-clinical development package for PBT434 to initiate human clinical trials.

Does Prana have any other drugs in clinical trials?

Yes, they do.

pipeline-assets07-1024x571

Source: Prana

Prana Biotechnology has another product called PBT2.

The company currently has two clinical trial programs for PBT2 focused on two other neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s study was called the IMAGINE Trial, but (there is always a ‘but’) recently PBT2 failed to meet its primary endpoint (significantly reducing levels of beta-amyloid  – the perceived bad guy in Alzheimer’s disease) in a phase III trial of mild Alzheimer’s disease. PBT2 was, however, shown to be safe and very well tolerated over the 52 week trial, with no difference in the occurrence of adverse events between the placebo and treated groups.

In addition, there was less atrophy (shrinkage) in the brains of those patients treated with PBT2 when compared to control brains, 2.6% and 4.0%, respectively (based on brain imaging).  The company is tracking measures of brain volume and cognition in a 12 month extension study. It could be interesting to continue that follow up long term to evaluate the consequences of long term use of this drug on Alzheimer’s disease – even if the effect is minimal, any drug that can slow the disease down is useful and could be used in conjunction with other neuroprotective medications.

For Huntington’s disease, the company is also using the PBT2 drug and this study has had a bit more success. The study, called Reach2HD, was a six month phase II clinical trial in 109 patients with early to mid-stage Huntington’s disease, across 20 sites in the US and Australia. The company was aiming to assess the safety profile of this drug in this particular condition, as well as determining the motor and behavioural benefits.

In the ReachHD study, PBT2 showed signs of improving some aspects of cognitive function in the study, which potentially represents a major event for a disease for which there is very little in the way of medical treatments.

For a full description of the PBT2 trials, see this wikipedia page on the topic.

Is Prana the only research group working on iron chelators technology for Parkinson’s disease?

No.

There is a large EU-based consortium called FAIR PARK II, which is running a five year trial (2015 – 2020) of the iron chelator deferiprone (also known as Ferriprox). The study is a multi-centre, placebo-controlled, randomised clinical trial involving 338 people with recently diagnosed Parkinson’s disease.

LOGO_FAIR_PARK_TIME1

The population will be divided into two group (169 subjects each). They will then be assigned either deferiprone (15 mg/kg twice a day) or a placebo. Each subject will be given 9-months of treatment followed by a 1-month post-treatment monitoring period, in order to assess the disease-modifying effect of deferiprone (versus placebo).

Product-14303066240

Deferiprone. Source: SGPharma

As far as we are aware, this FAIR PARK II clinical trial is still recruiting participants – please click here to read more about this – thus it will most likely be some time before we hear the results of this study.

Are there natural sources of chelators?

Yes there are. In fact, many natural antioxidants exert some chelating activities.

Prominent among the natural sources of chelators: Green tea has components of plant extracts, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG – which we have previously discussed in regards to Parkinson’s disease, click here to read that post) which possess structures which infer metal chelating properties.

As we have said before people, drink more green tea!

cup and teapot of linden tea and flowers isolated on white

Anyone fancy a cuppa? Source: Expertrain

So what does it all mean?

Summing up: We do not know what causes Parkinson’s disease. Most of our experimental treatments are focused on the biological events that occur in the brain around and after the time of diagnosis. These include an apparent accumulation of iron in affected brain regions.

Research groups are currently experimenting with drugs that reduce the levels of iron in the brain as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Preclinical data certainly look positive. We will now have to wait and see if those results translate into the human.

Previous clinical trials of metal chelators in neurodegeneration have had mixed success in demonstrating positive benefits. It may well be, however, that this treatment approach should be used in conjunction with other neuroprotective approaches – as a supplement. It will be interesting to see how Prana Biotechnology’s drug PBT434 fares in human clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease.

Stay tuned for more on this.


UPDATE – 3rd May 2017

Today the results of a double-blind, phase II clinical trial of iron chelator deferiprone in Parkinson’s disease were published. The results of the study indicate a mildly positive effect (though not statistically significant) after 6 months of daily treatment.

Iron1
Title: Brain iron chelation by deferiprone in a phase 2 randomised double-blinded placebo controlled clinical trial in Parkinson’s disease
Authors: Martin-Bastida A, Ward RJ, Newbould R, Piccini P, Sharp D, Kabba C, Patel MC, Spino M, Connelly J, Tricta F, Crichton RR & Dexter DT
Journal: Scientific Reports (2017), 7, 1398.
PMID: 28469157        (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this Phase 2 randomised, double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial, the researchers recruited 22 people with early stage Parkinson’s disease (disease duration of less than 5 years; 12 males and 10 females; aged 50–75 years). They were randomly assigned to either a placebo group (8 participants), or one of two deferiprone treated groups: 20mg/kg per day (7 participants) or 30mg/kg per day (7 participants). The treatment was two daily oral doses (taken morning and evening), and administered for 6 months with neurological examinations, brain imaging and blood sample collections being conducted at 0, 3 and 6 months.

Deferiprone therapy was well tolerated and brain imaging indicated clearance of iron from various parts of the brain in the treatment group compared to the placebo group. Interestingly, the 30mg/kg deferiprone treated group demonstrated a trend for improvement in motor-UPDRS scores and quality of life (although this was not statistically significance). The researchers concluded that “more extensive clinical trials into the potential benefits of iron chelation in PD”.

Given the size of the groups (7 people) and the length of the treatment period (only 6 months) in this study it is not really a surprise that the researchers did not see a major effect. That said, it is very intriguing that they did see a trend towards motor score benefits in the  30mg/kg deferiprone group – remembering that this is a double blind study (so even the investigators were blind as to which group the subjects were in).

We will now wait to see what the FAIR PARK II clinical trial finds.


UPDATE: 28th June 2017

Today, the research that Prana biotechnology Ltd was presenting in Vienna earlier this year was published:

Prana

Title: The novel compound PBT434 prevents iron mediated neurodegeneration and alpha-synuclein toxicity in multiple models of Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Finkelstein DI, Billings JL, Adlard PA, Ayton S, Sedjahtera A, Masters CL, Wilkins S, Shackleford DM, Charman SA, Bal W, Zawisza IA, Kurowska E, Gundlach AL, Ma S, Bush AI, Hare DJ, Doble PA, Crawford S, Gautier EC, Parsons J, Huggins P, Barnham KJ, Cherny RA.
Journal: Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2017 Jun 28;5(1):53.
PMID: 28659169             (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The results suggest that PBT434 is far less potent than deferiprone or deferoxamine at lowering cellular iron levels, but this weakness is compensated by the reduced levels of alpha synuclein accumulation in models of Parkinson’s disease. PBT434 certainly appears to be neuroprotective demonstrating improvements in motor function, neuropathology and biochemical markers of disease state in three different animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers provide little information as to when the company will be exploring clinical trials for this drug, but in the press release associated with the publication, Dr David Stamler (Prana’s Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, Clinical Development) was quoted saying that they “are eager to begin clinical testing of PBT434”. We’ll keep an eye to the ground for any further news.


FULL DISCLOSURE: Prana Biotechnology Ltd is an Australasian biotechnology company that is publicly listed on the ASX. The information presented here is for educational purposes. Under no circumstances should investment decisions be made based on the information provided here. The SoPD website has no financial or beneficial connection to either company. We have not been approached/contacted by the company to produce this post, nor have we alerted them to its production. We are simply presenting this information here as we thought the science of what the company is doing might be of interest to other readers. 

In addition, under absolutely no circumstances should anyone reading this material consider it medical advice. The material provided here is for educational purposes only. Before considering or attempting any change in your treatment regime, PLEASE consult with your doctor or neurologist. Metal chelators are clinically available medications, but it is not without side effects (for more on this, see this website). We urge caution and professional consultation before altering a treatment regime. SoPD can not be held responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided here. 


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Prana

On astrocytes and neurons – reprogramming for Parkinson’s

NG2+-flare

Last week scientists in Sweden published research demonstrating a method by which the supportive cells of the brain (called astrocytes) can be re-programmed into dopamine neurons… in the brain of a live animal!

It was a really impressive trick and it could have major implications for Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post is a long read, but in it we will review the research leading up to the study, explain the science behind the impressive feat, and discuss where things go from here.


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Different types of cells in the body. Source: Dreamstime

In your body at this present moment in time, there is approximately 40 trillion cells (Source).

The vast majority of those cells have developed into mature types of cell and they are undertaking very specific functions. Muscle cells, heart cells, brain cells – all working together in order to keep you vertical and ticking.

Now, once upon a time we believed that the maturation (or the more technical term: differentiation) of a cell was a one-way street. That is to say, once a cell became what it was destined to become, there was no going back. This was biological dogma.

Then a guy in Japan did something rather amazing.

Who is he and what did he do?

This is Prof Shinya Yamanaka:

yamanaka-s

Prof Shinya Yamanaka. Source: Glastone Institute

He’s a rockstar in the scientific research community.

Prof Yamanaka is the director of Center for induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Application (CiRA); and a professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University.

But more importantly, in 2006 he published a research report demonstrating how someone could take a skin cell and re-program it so that was now a stem cell – capable of becoming any kind of cell in the body.

Here’s the study:

IPS2

Title: Induction of pluripotent stem cells from mouse embryonic and adult fibroblast cultures by defined factors.
Authors: Takahashi K, Yamanaka S.
Journal: Cell. 2006 Aug 25;126(4):663-76.
PMID: 16904174                (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

Shinya Yamanaka‘s team started with the hypothesis that genes which are important to the maintenance of embryonic stem cells (the cells that give rise to all cells in the body) might also be able to cause an embryonic state in mature adult cells. They selected twenty-four genes that had been previously identified as important in embryonic stem cells to test this idea. They used re-engineered retroviruses to deliver these genes to mouse skin cells. The retroviruses were emptied of all their disease causing properties, and could thus function as very efficient biological delivery systems.

The skin cells were engineered so that only cells in which reactivation of the embryonic stem cells-associated gene, Fbx15, would survive the testing process. If Fbx15 was not turned on in the cells, they would die. When the researchers infected the cells with all twenty-four embryonic stem cells genes, remarkably some of the cells survived and began to divide like stem cells.

In order to identify the genes necessary for the reprogramming, the researchers began removing one gene at a time from the pool of twenty-four. Through this process, they were able to narrow down the most effective genes to just four: Oct4, Sox2, cMyc, and Klf4, which became known as the Yamanaka factors.

This new type of cell is called an induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cell – ‘pluripotent’ meaning capable of any fate.

The discovery of IPS cells turned biological dogma on it’s head.

And in acknowledgement of this amazing bit of research, in 2012 Prof Yamanaka and Prof John Gurdon (University of Cambridge) were awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology and Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be converted back to stem cells.

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Prof Yamanaka and Prof Gurdon. Source: UCSF

Prof Gurdon achieved the feat in 1962 when he removed the nucleus of a fertilised frog egg cell and replaced it with the nucleus of a cell taken from a tadpole’s intestine. The modified egg cell then grew into an adult frog! This fascinating research proved that the mature cell still contained the genetic information needed to form all types of cells.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We do not want to be accused of taking anything away from Prof Gurdon’s contribution to this field (which was great!) by not mentioning his efforts here. For the sake of saving time and space, we are focusing on Prof Yamanaka’s research as it is more directly related to today’s post.

 

ips-cells

Making IPS cells. Source: learn.genetics

This amazing discovery has opened new doors for biological research and provided us with incredible opportunities for therapeutic treatments. For example, we can now take skins cells from a person with Parkinson’s disease and turn those cells into dopamine neurons which can then be tested with various drugs to see which treatment is most effective for that particular person (personalised medicine in it’s purest form).

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Some of the option available to Parkinson’s disease. Source: Nature

Imagination is literally the only limiting factor with regards to the possible uses of IPS cell technology.

Shortly after Yamanaka’s research was published in 2006, however, the question was asked ‘rather than going back to a primitive state, can we simply change the fate of a mature cell directly?’ For example, turn a skin cell into a neuron.

This question was raised mainly to address the issue of ‘age’ in the modelling disease using IPS cells. Researchers questioned whether an aged mature cell reprogrammed into an immature IPS cell still carried the characteristics of an aged cell (and can be used to model diseases of the aged), or would we have to wait for the new cell to age before we can run experiments on it. Skin biopsies taken from aged people with neurodegenerative conditions may lose the ‘age’ element of the cell and thus an important part of the personalised medicine concept would be lost.

So researchers began trying to ‘re-program’ mature cells. Taking a skin cell and turning it directly into a heart cell or a brain cell.

And this is probably the craziest part of this whole post because they actually did it! 

figure 1

Different methods of inducing skin cells to become something else. Source: Neuron

In 2010, scientists from Stanford University published this report:

Nature2

Title: Direct conversion of fibroblasts to functional neurons by defined factors
Authors: Vierbuchen T, Ostermeier A, Pang ZP, Kokubu Y, Südhof TC, Wernig M.
Journal: Nature. 2010 Feb 25;463(7284):1035-41.
PMID: 20107439

In this study, the researchers demonstrated that the activation of three genes (Ascl1, Brn2 and Myt1l) was sufficient to rapidly and efficiently convert skin cells into functional neurons in cell culture. They called them ‘iN’ cells’ or induced neuron cells. The ‘re-programmed’ skin cells made neurons that produced many neuron-specific proteins, generated action potentials (the electrical signal that transmits a signal across a neuron), and formed functional connection (or synapses) with neighbouring cells. It was a pretty impressive achievement, which they beat one year later by converting mature liver cells into neurons – Click here to read more on this – Wow!

The next step – with regards to our Parkinson’s-related interests – was to convert skin cells directly into dopamine neurons (the cells most severely affected in the condition).

And guess what:

PSNA

Title: Direct conversion of human fibroblasts to dopaminergic neurons.
Authors: Pfisterer U, Kirkeby A, Torper O, Wood J, Nelander J, Dufour A, Björklund A, Lindvall O, Jakobsson J, Parmar M
Journal:  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A (2011) 108:10343-10348.
PMID: 21646515          (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, Swedish researchers confirmed that activation of Ascl1, Brn2, and Myt1l re-programmed human skin cells directly into functional neurons. But then if they added the activation of two additional genes, Lmx1a andFoxA2 (which are both involved in dopamine neuron generation), they could convert skin cells directly into dopamine neurons. And those dopamine neurons displayed all of the correct features of normal dopamine neurons.

With the publication of this research, it suddenly seemed like anything was possible and people began make all kinds of cell types out of skin cells. For a good review on making neurons out of skin cells – Click here.

Given that all of this was possible in a cell culture dish, some researchers started wondering if direct reprogramming was possible in the body. So they tried.

And again, guess what:

Nature1

Title: In vivo reprogramming of adult pancreatic exocrine cells to beta-cells.
Authors: Zhou Q, Brown J, Kanarek A, Rajagopal J, Melton DA.
Journal: Nature. 2008 Oct 2;455(7213):627-32.
PMID: 18754011

Using the activation of three genes (Ngn3, Pdx1 and Mafa), the investigators behind this study re-programmed differentiated pancreatic exocrine cells in adult mice into cells that closely resemble b-cells. And all of this occurred inside the animals, while the animals were wandering around & doing their thing!

Now naturally, researchers in the Parkinson’s disease community began wondering if this could also be achieved in the brain, with dopamine neurons being produced from re-programmed cells.

And (yet again) guess what:

in-vivo

Title: Generation of induced neurons via direct conversion in vivo
Authors: Torper O, Pfisterer U, Wolf DA, Pereira M, Lau S, Jakobsson J, Björklund A, Grealish S, Parmar M.
Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 23;110(17):7038-43.
PMID: 23530235         (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the Swedish scientists (behind the previous direct re-programming of skin cells into dopamine neurons) wanted to determine if they could re-program cells inside the brain. Firstly, they engineered skin cells with the three genes (Ascl1, Brn2a, & Myt1l) under the control of a special chemical – only in the presence of the chemical, the genes would be activated. They next transplanted these skin cells into the brains of mice and began adding the chemical to the drinking water of the mice. At 1 & 3 months after transplantation, the investigators found re-programmed cells inside the brains of the mice.

Next, the researchers improved on their recipe for producing dopamine neurons by adding the activation of two further genes: Otx2 and Lmx1b (also important in the development of dopamine neurons). So they were now activating a lot of genes: Ascl1, Brn2a, Myt1l, Lmx1a, FoxA2, Otx2 and Lmx1b. Unfortunately, when these reprogrammed cells were transplanted into the brain, few of them survived to become mature dopamine neurons.

The investigators then ask themselves ‘do we really need to transplant cells? Can’t we just reprogram cells inside the brain?’ And this is exactly what they did! They injected the viruses that allow for reprogramming directly into the brains of mice. The experiment was designed so that the cargo of the viruses would only become active in the astrocyte cells, not neurons. And when the researchers looked in the brains of these mice 6 weeks later, they found numerous re-programmed neurons, indicating that direct reprogramming is possible in the intact brain.

So what was so special about the research published last week about? Why the media hype?

The research published last week, by another Swedish group, took this whole process one step further: Not only did they re-program astrocytes in the brain to become dopamine neurons, but they also did this on a large enough scale to correct the motor issues in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.

Here is the study:
Arenas

Title: Induction of functional dopamine neurons from human astrocytes in vitro and mouse astrocytes in a Parkinson’s disease model
Authors: di Val Cervo PR, Romanov RA, Spigolon G, Masini D, Martín-Montañez E, Toledo EM, La Manno G, Feyder M, Pifl C, Ng YH, Sánchez SP, Linnarsson S, Wernig M, Harkany T, Fisone G, Arenas E.
Journal: Nature Biotechnology (2017) doi:10.1038/nbt.3835
PMID: 28398344

These researchers began this project 6 years ago with a new cocktail of genes for reprogramming cells to become dopamine neurons. They used the activation of NEUROD1, ASCL1 and LMX1A, and a microRNA miR218 (microRNAs are genes that produce RNA, but not protein – click here for more on this). These genes improved the reprogramming efficiency of human astrocytes to 16% (that is the percentage of astrocytes that were infected with the viruses and went on to became dopamine neurons). The researchers then added some chemicals to the reprogramming process that helps dopamine neurons to develop in normal conditions, and they observed an increase in the level of reprogramming to approx. 30%. And these reprogrammed cells display many of the correct properties of dopamine neurons.

Next the investigators decided to try this conversion inside the brains of mice that had Parkinson’s disease modelled in them (using a neurotoxin). The delivery of the viruses into the brains of these mice resulted in reprogrammed dopamine neurons beginning to appear, and 13 weeks after the viruses were delivered, the researchers observed improvements in the Parkinson’s disease related motor symptoms of the mice. The scientists concluded that with further optimisation, this reprogramming approach may enable clinical therapies for Parkinson’s disease, by the delivery of genes rather than transplanted cells.

How does this reprogramming work?

As we have indicated above, the re-programming utilises re-engineered viruses. They have been emptied of their disease causing elements, allowing us to use them as very efficient biological delivery systems. Importantly, retroviruses infect dividing cells and integrate their ‘cargo’ into the host cell’s DNA.

RetroviralIntegration

Retroviral infection and intergration into DNA. Source: Evolution-Biology

The ‘cargo’ in the case of IPS cells, is a copy of the genes that allow reprogramming (such as the Yamanaka genes), which the cell will then start to activate, resulting in the production of protein for those genes. These proteins subsequently go on to activate a variety of genes required for the maintenance of embryonic stem cells (and re-programming of mature cells).

And viruses were also used for the re-programming work in the brain as well.

There is the possibility that one day we will be able to do this without viruses – in 2013, researchers made IPS cells using a specific combination of chemicals (Click here to read more about this) – but at the moment, viruses are the most efficient biological targeting tool we have.

So what does it all mean?

Last week researchers is Sweden published research explaining how they reprogrammed some of the helper cells in the brains of Parkinsonian mice so that they turned into dopamine neurons and helped to alleviate the symptoms the mice were feeling.

This result and the trail of additional results outlined above may one day be looked back upon as the starting point for a whole new way of treating disease and injury to particular organs in the body. Suddenly we have the possibility of re-programming cells in our body to under take a new functions to help combat many of the conditions we suffer.

It is important to appreciate, however, that the application of this technology is still a long way from entering the clinic (a great deal of optimisation is required). But the fact that it is possible and that we can do it, raises hope of more powerful medical therapies for future generations.

As the researchers themselves admit, this technology is still a long way from the clinic. Improving the efficiency of the technique (both the infection of the cells and the reprogramming) will be required as we move down this new road. In addition, we will need to evaluate the long-term consequences of removing support cells (astrocytes) from the carefully balanced system that is the brain. Future innovations, however, may allow us to re-program stronger, more disease-resistant dopamine neurons which could correct the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease without being affected by the disease itself (as may be the case in transplanted cells – click here to read more about this).

Watch for a lot more research coming from this topic.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Greg Dunn (we love his work!)

An Ambroxol update – active in the brain

Ambroxol-800x400

This week pre-clinical data was published demonstrating that the Ambroxol is active in the brain.

This is important data given that there is currently a clinical trial being conducted for Ambroxol in Parkinson’s disease.

Today’s post will review the new data and discuss what is happening regarding the clinical trial.


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Ambroxol. Source: Skinflint

We have previously discussed the potential use of Ambroxol in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read that post). Today we follow up that post with new data that provides further support for an on-going clinical trial.

Firstly, what is Ambroxol?

Ambroxol is a commonly used treatment for respiratory diseases (the respiratory system being the lungs and related components required for breathing). Ambroxol promotes the clearance of mucus and eases coughing. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, reducing redness in a sore throat. It is the active ingredient of products like Mucosolvan, Mucobrox, and Mucol.

 

What is the connection between Ambroxol and Parkinson’s disease?

So this is where a gene called GBA comes into the picture.

Genetic mutations in the GBA (full name: Glucosylceramidase Beta) gene are the most common genetic anomaly associated with Parkinson’s disease. People with a mutation in their GBA gene have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the general population. And interestingly, people with Parkinson’s disease are approximately five times more likely to carry a GBA mutation than healthy control subjects.

What does GBA do?

The GBA gene provides the instructions for making an enzyme (called glucocerebrosidase) that helps with the digestion and recycling of waste inside cells. The enzyme is located and active inside ‘lysosomes‘.

What are Lysosomes?

Lysosomes are small bags of digestive enzymes that can be found inside cells. They help to break down proteins that have either been brought into the cell or that have served their function and need to be digested and disposed of (or recycled).

Lysosomes

How lysosomes work. Source: Prezi

Inside the lysosomes are enzymes like glucocerebrosidase which help to break material down into useful parts. The lysosome will fuse with other small bags (called vacuole) that act as storage vessels of material inside a cell. The enzymes from the lysosome will mix with the material in the vacuole and digest it (or it break down into more manageable components).

Now people with a genetic mutation in their GBA gene will often have an abnormally short, non-functioning version of the glucocerebrosidase enzyme. In those cases the breaking down of waste inside the lysosome becomes inhibited. And if waste can’t be disposed of or recycled properly, things start to go wrong in the cell.

How does Ambroxol correct this?

It was recently shown that Ambroxol triggers exocytosis of lysosomes (Source). Exocytosis is the process by which waste is exported out of the cell.

exocytosis

Exocytosis. Source: Socratic

Thus by encouraging lysosomes to undergo exocytosis and spit their contents out of the cell – digested or not – Ambroxol allows the cell to remove waste effectively and therefore function in a more normal fashion. This mechanism of treatment seemingly bi-passes the faulty glucocerebrosidase digestion enzyme entirely.

Until recently, two important questions, however, have remained unanswered:

  1. Does Ambroxol enter the brain and have this function there?
  2. What are the consequences of long term Ambroxol use?

We now have an answer for question no. 1:

Amb2

Title: Ambroxol effects in glucocerebrosidase and α-synuclein transgenic mice.
Authors: Migdalska-Richards A, Daly L, Bezard E, Schapira AH.
Journal: Ann Neurol. 2016 Nov;80(5):766-775.
PMID: 27859541            (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the researchers treated mice with Ambroxol for 12 days and then measured the level of glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain. They gave Ambroxol to three different groups of mice:

  • a group of normal mice,
  • a group of mice which had been genetically engineered with a specific mutation in their GBA gene (the heterozygous L444P mutation)
  • a group of mice that produced human alpha synuclein (the protein closely associated with Parkinson’s disease).

When they looked at the level of glucocerebrosidase enzyme activity in normal mice, they found an increase of approximately 20% (in mice treated with 4mM Ambroxol). One curious finding was that this dose was the only dose that increase glucocerebrosidase activity (1, 3, and 5mM of Ambroxol had no effect). The investigators noted, however, a reduction in water drinking of mice receiving 5mM in their drinking water (maybe they didn’t like the taste of it!), suggesting that they were not getting as much Ambroxol as the 4mM group.

The 4mM level of of Ambroxol also increased glucocerebrosidase activity in the L444P mutation mice and the alpha-synuclein mice (which interestingly also has reduced levels of glucocerebrosidase activity). One important observation in the alpha synuclein mice was the finding that Ambroxol was able to reduce the levels of alpha synuclein in the cells, indicating better clearance of un-wanted excess of proteins.

These combined results suggested to the investigators that Ambroxol is entering the brain of mice (passing through the protective blood brain barrier) and able to be effective there. In addition, they did not witness any serious adverse effects of ambroxol administration in the mice – an observation made in other studies of Ambroxol in normal mice (Click here to read more about this).

These studies have been followed up by a dosing study in primates which was just published:

Ambrox

Title: Oral ambroxol increases brain glucocerebrosidase activity in a nonhuman primate.
Authors: Migdalska-Richards A, Ko WK, Li Q, Bezard E, Schapira AH.
Journal: Synapse. 2017 Mar 12. doi: 10.1002/syn.21967.
PMID: 28295625            (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the investigators analysed the effect of Ambroxol treatment on glucocerebrosidase activity in three healthy non-human primates. One subject was given an ineffective control solution vehicle, another subject received 22.5 mg/day of Ambroxol and the third subject received 100 mg/day of Ambroxol. They showed that daily administration 100 mg/day of Ambroxol results in increased levels of glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain (approximately 20% increase on average across different areas of the brain). Importantly, the 22.5 mg treatment did not result in any increase.

The investigators wanted to determine if the effect of Ambroxol was specific to glucocerebrosidase, and so they analysed the activity of another lysosome enzyme called beta-hexosaminidase (HEXB). They found that 100 mg/day of Ambroxol also increased HEXB activity (again by approximately 20%), suggesting that Ambroxol may be having an effect on other lysosome enzymes and not just glucocerebrosidase.

The researches concluded that these results provide the first data of the effect of Ambroxol treatment on glucocerebrosidase activity in the brain of non-human primates. In addition, the results indicate that Ambroxol is active and as the researchers wrote “should be further investigated in the context of clinical trials as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease”.

And there is a clinical trial currently underway?

Yes indeed.

Funded by the Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the Van Andel Research Institute (USA), there is currently a phase I clinical trial with 20 people with Parkinson’s disease receiving Ambroxol over 24 months. Importantly, the participants being enrolled in the study have both Parkinson’s disease and a mutation in their GBA gene. The study is being led by Professor Anthony Schapira at the Royal Free Hospital (London).

EDITORS NOTE HERE: Readers may be interested to know that Prof Schapira is also involved with another clinical trial for GBA-associated Parkinson’s disease. The work is being conducted in collaboration with the biotech company Sanofi Genzyme, and involves a phase II trial, called MOVE-PD, which is testing the efficacy, and safety of a drug called GZ/SAR402671 (Click here to read more about this clinical trial). GZ/SAR402671 is a glucosylceramide synthase inhibitor, which will hopefully reduce the production and consequent accumulation of glycosphingolipids in people with a mutation in the GBA gene. This approach is trying to reduce the amount of protein that can not be broken down by the faulty glucocerebrosidase enzyme. The MOVE-PD study will enroll more than 200 patients worldwide (Click here and here to read more on this).

The current Phase 1 trial at the Royal Free Hospital will be primarily testing the safety of Ambroxol in GBA-associated Parkinson’s disease. The researchers will, however, be looking to see if Ambroxol can increase levels of glucocerebrosidase and also assess whether this has any beneficial effects on the Parkinson’s features.

So what does it all mean?

There is a major effort from many of the Parkinson’s disease related charitable groups to clinically test available medications for their ability to slow this condition. Big drug companies are not interested in this ‘re-purposing effort’ as many of these drugs are no longer patent protected and thus providing limited profit opportunities for them. This is one of the unfortunate realities of the pharmaceutical industry business model.

One of the most interesting drugs being tested in this re-purposing effort is the respiratory disease-associated treatment, Ambroxol. Recently new research has been published that indicates Ambroxol is able to enter the brain and have an impact by increasing the level of protein disposal activity.

A clinical trial testing Ambroxol in Parkinson’s disease is underway and we will be watching for the results when they are released (most likely late 2019/early 2020, though preliminary results may be released earlier).

This trial is worth watching.

Stay tuned.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Under absolutely no circumstances should anyone reading this material consider it medical advice. The material provided here is for educational purposes only. Before considering or attempting any change in your treatment regime, PLEASE consult with your doctor or neurologist. Amboxol is a commercially available medication, but it is not without side effects (for more on this, see this website). We urge caution and professional consultation before altering a treatment regime. SoPD can not be held responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided here. 


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Pharmacybook

Stimulating research in London (Canada)

Spinal-Cord-final

Recently the SoPD has been contacted by readers asking about this video:

http://london.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1080895

The video presents a news article from Canada describing a clinical study of spinal cord stimulation for Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post we review what spinal cord stimulation is and what research has been done in Parkinson’s disease.


 

should-say-50th-birthday-speech_67e6879f1e6fbd7

50 years celebration. Source: Reference

As many readers will be aware from 2017 represents the 200 year anniversary of the first description of Parkinson’s disease by one Mr James Parkinson.

Many readers will not be aware, however, that 2017 is also represents the 50th anniversary of the first use of a technique called spinal cord stimulation:

What is spinal cord stimulation?

Anterior_thoracic_SCS

An x-ray of the spine with a stimulator implanted (towards the top of the image, and cords leading off to the bottom left). Source: Wikipedia

A spinal cord stimulator involves a small device being used to apply pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord. It is generally used for pain relief, but it has recently been tested in a variety of other medical conditions.

The device is a column of stimulating electrodes that is surgically implanted in the epidural space of the spine. And before you ask: the epidural space is the area between the outer protective skin of the spinal cord (called the dura mater) and the surrounding vertebrae. So the device lies against the spinal cord, and is protected by the bones that make up the spine (as shown in the image below).

stimimplanttrial_1280

The stimulating electrodes within the epidural space. Source: SpineOne

An electrical pulse generator is implanted in the lower abdomen and conducting wires are connected between the electrodes to the generator. Much like deep brain stimulation, the system is entirely enclosed in the body and operated with a remote control.

How does spinal cord stimulation work?

The stimulation basically interrupts the feeling of pain – blocking it from reaching the brain – substituting it with a more pleasing sensation called paresthesia (a kind of tingling or numbness).

PE-SCS Fig1

Source: MayoClinic

The stimulation does not eliminate the source of pain, it simply masks it by interfering with the signal going to the brain.  As a result the amount of relief from pain varies from person to person. In general, spinal cord stimulation resulting in a 50-70% reduction in pain.

But Parkinson’s results from inability to move, how would spinal cord stimulation work in Parkinson’s disease?

Yeah, this is a good question and the answer is not entirely clear, but the researchers (behind the research we discuss below) suggest that beneficial effects from spinal cord stimulation in Parkinson’s disease could be coming from direct activation of ascending pathways reaching thalamic nuclei and the cerebral cortex. That is to say (in plain English): activation of the spinal cord results in a signal going up into the brain where it alters the interaction between two of the regions involved in the initiation of movement (the thalamus and the cortex). And as we shall discuss below, there is evidence backing this idea.

Ok, so how much research has been done on spinal cord stimulation for Parkinson’s disease?

Actually quite a bit (in fact, for a good early review on the topic – click here).

The first real attempt at spinal cord stimulation for Parkinson’s disease was this report here:

Spinal1

Title: Spinal Cord Stimulation Restores Locomotion in Animal Models of Parkinson’s Disease
Authors: Fuentes, R., Petersson, P., Siesser, W. B., Caron, M. G., & Nicolelis, M. A. L.
Journal: Science (2009) 323(5921), 1578-1582.
PMID: 19299613                   (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

It was conducted by Prof Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke University. Duke were kind enough to make this short video about the research:

In their research report, the scientists injected mice with a drug that reduced the level of dopamine in the brain (the tyrosine hydroxylase inhibitor alpha-methyl-para-tyrosine  or AMPT). Similar to Parkinson’s disease, this resulted in a significant reduction in the movements of those mice. It also resulted in changes in the neuronal activity patterns of cells in an area of the brain called the motor cortex (we have talked about the motor cortex in a previous post). When the researchers then conducted spinal cord stimulation on these mice, they found that stimulation corrected both the loss of movement and the altered activity in the motor cortex.

The researchers then tested spinal cord stimulation in rats which had their dopamine system severely depleted (using the neurotoxin 6-OHDA), and they again found that the treatment could rescue the loss of locomotor ability. Curiously, spinal cord stimulation in the rats also caused an increase in locomotion activity after the stimulation period had stopped. On top of this, the researchers found that spinal cord stimulation aided the effect of L-dopa, allowing lower doses of L-dopa to achieve the same behavioural results as higher doses in animals not receiving spinal cord stimulation.

These initial results were then replicated in primates:

Monkey

Title: Spinal cord stimulation alleviates motor deficits in a primate model of Parkinson disease.
Authors: Santana MB, Halje P, Simplício H, Richter U, Freire MA, Petersson P, Fuentes R, Nicolelis MA.
Journal: Neuron. 2014 Nov 19;84(4):716-22.
PMID: 25447740              (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the researchers modelled Parkinson’s disease in five adult marmosets using the neurotoxin 6-OHDA, which resulted in a reduction in spontaneous behaviour and a significant loss of dopamine neurons in the brain. They then implanted a spinal cord stimulator in each of the animals, which once activated resulted in a 200% improvement in some aspects of behavioural activity. Improvements observed in Parkinson’s-like features included freezing (31%), hypokinesia (23%), posture (23%), and bradykinesia (21%) as calculated by investigators blind to the treatment conditions of each subject.

In the brain, the researchers found that spinal cord stimulation resulted in similar improvements in neural activity as that seen with L-dopa treatment. Given all of these results, the investigators concluded that spinal cord stimulation “should be further tested in clinical studies aimed at measuring its long-term efficacy as a less invasive, long-term therapy for” people with Parkinson’s disease.

And it was not just Prof Nicolelis’ group that has achieved these results. Japanese researchers have also reported spinal cord stimulation having beneficial effects in models of Parkinson’s disease:

NeuoroProtect

Title: Spinal cord stimulation exerts neuroprotective effects against experimental Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Shinko A, Agari T, Kameda M, Yasuhara T, Kondo A, Tayra JT, Sato K, Sasaki T, Sasada S, Takeuchi H, Wakamori T, Borlongan CV, Date I.
Journal: PLoS One. 2014 Jul 10;9(7):e101468.
PMID: 25009993           (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this report, the researchers actually found that spinal cord stimulation resulted in neuroprotection in a classical model of Parkinson’s disease (rodent 6-OHDA striatal delivery). Across three different levels of stimulation, the researchers reported better rescue of motor deficits and protection of dopamine neurons (particularly for 50Hz stimulation). The researchers also provided evidence suggesting that the neuroprotective effect might have something to do with a protein called Vascular endothelial growth factor (or VEGF). Interestingly, they found that the neuroprotective protein GDNF (that we have discussed before – click here for that post) was not involved.

So has this spinal stimulation procedure ever been conducted in humans with Parkinson’s disease before?

Yes, it has. But the results were a bit disappointing.

Stim1

Title: Spinal cord stimulation failed to relieve akinesia or restore locomotion in Parkinson disease.
Authors: Thevathasan W, Mazzone P, Jha A, Djamshidian A, Dileone M, Di Lazzaro V, Brown P.
Journal: Neurology. 2010 Apr 20;74(16):1325-7.
PMID: 20404313          (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this very small clinical study, just two people (both 75+ years of age) with Parkinson’s disease were fitted with spinal cord stimulators. Ten days after the surgery, the subjects participated in a blind analysis of the motor effects of spinal stimulation (blind analysis meaning that the assessors were not aware of their surgical treatment). The assessors, however, found no improvements as a result of the stimulation treatment.

This report lead to a letter to the journal from Prof Nicolelis and his colleagues:

Neurol

In their letter, Prof Nicolelis and co point out several issues with the clinical study that may impact the final results (such as the tiny size of the study (only two participants) and the fact that the electrodes were located at a high cervical level, while in the rodent study they were located at a high thoracic level). In addition, the commercially available electrodes used in the human clinical study did not match the relative size or orientation of the electrodes used in the rodent study.

The researchers of the clinical study suggested that the beneficial motor effect described in the rodent study may be due to an increase in arousal (as a result of higher stimulation). But Prof Nicolelis and colleagues pointed out in their letter that their rodent study included three control experiments (including air puffs, trigeminal stimulation at the highest intensity tolerated by the animals, and direct measurements of changes in heart rate following spinal stimulation) which did not find a strong connection between arousal response and recovery seen in the level of locomotion.

The letter concluded that the results of the small clinical trial were inconclusive, and that further research in nonhuman primate models of Parkinson’s are required to determine the effects of electrode design and stimulation parameters. The doctors behind the clinical study agreed that more research is required.

And what do we know about this new clinical study?

Unfortunately, not very much.

The study is being conducted by Prof. Mandar Jog of Western University. Recently the Parkinson’s Society Southwestern Ontario provided some funding towards the study (Click here for more on this), but that is about as much as we could find on the work.

So what does it all mean?

Summing up: Spinal cord stimulation is a technique that is used to alleviate severe back pain. It has recently been proposed for Parkinson’s disease, resulting in several clinical trials. Here at the SoPD we are not sure what our opinion on spinal cord stimulation is at present, except that more research is obviously required.

If the results from the new clinical study (being conducted in Canada) indicate that spinal cord stimulation has beneficial effects for people with Parkinson’s disease, it would certainly represent a significant step forward for the community which relies heavily on symptom masking drugs at present. Before proceeding to wider clinical availability, however, larger clinical studies will be required to truly demonstrate safety and efficacy.

We’ll let you know if we hear anything else about this developing area of research.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Greg Dunn

Editorial: Putting 200 years into context

200

Here at the SoPD we understand and are deeply sympathetic to the frustration felt by the Parkinson’s community regarding the idea of ‘200 years and still no cure’.

As research scientists, we are in the trench everyday – fighting the good fight – trying to find ways of alleviating this terrible condition. And some of us are also in the clinics, interacting with sufferers and their families, listening to their stories and trying to help. While we do not deal directly with the day-to-day trials of living with Parkinson’s disease, we are keenly aware of many of the issues and are fully invested in trying to correct this condition.

972px-Paralysis_agitans_(1907,_after_St._Leger)

Source: Wikipedia

We do feel, however, that it is important to put some context into that ‘200 years’ time point that we are observing this week. It is too easy for people to think “wow, 200 years and still no cure?”

In our previous post – made in collaboration with Prof Frank Church of the Journey with Parkinson’s blog – we listed the major historical milestones and discoveries made in the Parkinson’s disease field during the last 200 years.

The most striking feature of that time line, however, is how just little actually happened during the first 100 years.

In fact for most of that period, Parkinson’s disease wasn’t even called ‘Parkinson’s disease’.

Of the 48 events that we covered on that time line, 37 of them have occurred in the last 50 years (26 since 2000).

Taking this line of thought one step further, 2017 is also the 20 year anniversary of the discovery of alpha synuclein‘s association with Parkinson’s disease. And what a remarkable 20 years that has been. In 1997, a group of researcher at the National institute of Health led by Robert Nussbaum reported the first genetic mutation in the alpha synuclein gene that infers vulnerability to Parkinson’s disease.

Since then, we have:

  • identified multiple additional mutations within that same gene that increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • determined which forms of alpha synuclein are toxic.
  • identified alpha synuclein as an important component of Lewy bodies – the dense clusters of protein found in the Parkinsonian brain.
  • discovered numerous methods by which alpha synuclein can be passed between cells – potentially aiding in the spread of Parkinson’s disease.
  • developed and validated models of Parkinson’s disease based on manipulations of alpha synuclein (including numerous genetically engineered mice, viral over-expression models, etc).
  • identified alpha synuclein in the lining of the gut of people with Parkinson’s disease and this has aided us in developing new theories as to how the condition may start.
  • set up and run numerous clinical trials targeting alpha synuclein (and we eagerly await the results of those trials).
  • published over 6200 scientific papers (don’t believe me? Click here) – that’s over 300 publications per year!

PBB_Protein_SNCA_image

Alpha synuclein protein. Source: Wikipedia

And the truly amazing part? All of these particular achievements are only dealing with just the one gene: alpha synuclein.

Since the identification of the alpha synuclein mutations, we have subsequently discovered genetic mutations in over 20 other genes that increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. And we have conducted the same activities/experiments for most of those genes as we have for alpha synuclein.

For example, in 2004 we discovered that people with genetic mutations in a gene called glucocerebrosidase (or GBA) had an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In 2016, just 12 years after that discovery we have started a clinical trial designed specifically for those people (Click here for more on this).

wwwnew2_0

Source: Parkinson’s UK

We here at the SoPD are fully supportive of campaigns like #WeWontWait, and this post was not written (nor meant to be taken) as an excuse response to the ‘200 years and no cure’ frustration. I can understand how it may be read that way, but I did not know how else to write it. And I thought it needed to be written.

The point of this entire post is that those 200 years need to be put into context.

And while all of these words aren’t going to make life easier for someone living with Parkinson’s to deal with their situation, in addition to raising awareness this week I think it is important for the Parkinson’s community to also understand just how far we have come, and how fast we are currently progressing.

The question can be asked: will this be the last major anniversary we acknowledge with regards to Parkinson’s disease?

I sincerely think that there is cause to hope that it is.


 

Let me finish with a personal note:

I have a good friend – let’s call him Matt.

As a young boy, Matt remembers his grandfather having Parkinson’s disease. He remembers growing up watching the trials and tribulations that the old man went through with the condition. There were basically no treatment options when Matt’s grandfather was diagnosed and little in the way of support for the family. His grandfather’s body simply froze up as the disease progressed. L-dopa probably only became available to Matt’s grandfather during the latter stages of the disease.

Four years ago Matt’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Thanks to scientific advances, however, Matt’s dad now has a wide range of treatment options on the medication side of things. The disease can be managed so that he can still play his golf and enjoy his retirement – in a way that his own father never could. He also has numerous surgical options once those medications lose their effectiveness (eg. deep brain stimulation, Pallidotomy, etc). The chances are very likely that Matt’s father will pass on by natural causes before he requires many of those additional options.

This is the progress that we have made.

But there is still a lot of work to be done of course.

During a lunch shortly after his father’s diagnosis, Matt looked squarely across the table at me. Me, the Parkinson’s researcher. All of the usual jovial nature was missing from his face and he simply muttered the words ‘hurry up’.

Whether he was speaking for his father, himself or his own young kids, I understood where his words were coming from and the sentiment.

And, as this post and the previous post point out, we are hurrying up.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from BMO

Milestones in Parkinson’s disease research and discovery

Self-Reflected-in-violets

FrankFor today’s post, we have teamed up with Prof Frank Church from the Journey with Parkinson’s blog to bring readers an ‘Introduction to the historical timeline on Parkinson’s disease’.

The idea for this project started as a conversation between Frank and his partner Barbara during a recent weekend at the beach in North Carolina.

Frank said: “Wouldn’t it be cool to publish a Parkinson’s historical timeline for Parkinson’s awareness month?”

However, to complete this project Frank felt it necessary to bring in some extra help in the form of a Parkinson’s expert.

And when everyone else said they were too busy, Frank contacted us.

Truly flattered, we immediately said yes. And the rest is history.


We are happy to present the milestones in Parkinson’s disease research and discover, though we do apologise to the clinicians, scientists, health-care specialists, and their projects that were not cited here but we limited the timeline to ~50 notations.

Below there are six panels outlining different stages of the history of Parkinson’s disease, and under each of them we have briefly described each of the events in the panel.

We hope you like it.

1817-1919- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 1a: Historical):

Slide1

First description of Parkinson’s disease

In 1811, Mr James Parkinson of no. 1 Hoxton Square (London) published a 66 page booklet called an ‘An Essay on the Shaking Palsy’. At the date of printing, it sold for 3 shillings (approx. £9 or US$12). The booklet was the first complete description of a condition that James called ‘Paralysis agitans’ or shaking palsy. In his booklet, he discusses the history of tremor and distinguishes this new condition from other diseases. He then describes three of his own patients and three people who he saw in the street.

The naming of Parkinson’s disease

Widely considered the ‘Father of modern neurology’, the importance of Jean-Martin Charcot’s contribution to modern medicine is rarely in doubt. From Sigmund Freud to William James (one of the founding fathers of Psychology), Charcot taught many of the great names in the early field of neurology. Between 1868 and 1881, Charcot focused much of his attention on the ‘paralysis agitans’. Charcot rejected the label ‘Paralysis agitans’, however, suggesting that it was misleading in that patients were not markedly weak and do not necessarily have tremor. Rather than Paralysis Agitans, Charcot suggested that Maladie de Parkinson (or Parkinson’s disease) would be a more appropriate name, bestowing credit to the man who first described the condition. And thus 70 years after passing away, James Parkinson was immortalized with the disease named after him.

The further clinical characterisation of Parkinson’s disease

British neurologist Sir William Gowers published a two-volume text called the Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System (1886, 1888). In this book he described his personal experience with 80 people with Parkinson’s disease in the 1880s. He also identified the subtle male predominance of the disorder and provided illustrations of the characteristic posture. In his treatment of Parkinson’s tremor, Gower used hyoscyamine, hemlock, and hemp (cannabis) as effective agents for temporary tremor abatement.

The discovery of the chemical dopamine

In the Parkinsonian brain there is a severe reduction in the chemical dopamine. This chemical was first synthesised in 1910 by George Barger and James Ewens at the Wellcome labs in London, England.

The discovery of Lewy bodies

One of the cardinal features of Parkinson’s disease in the brain is the presence of Lewy bodies – circular clusters of protein. In 1912, German neurologist Friedrich Lewy, just two years out of medical school and still in his first year as Director of the Neuropsychiatric Laboratory at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) Medical School discovered these ‘spherical inclusions’ in the brains of a people who had died with Parkinson’s disease.

The importance of the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s disease

The first brain structure to be associated with Parkinson’s disease was the substantia nigra. This region lies in an area called the midbrain and contains the majority of the dopamine neurons in the human brain. It was in 1919 that a Russian graduate student working in Paris, named Konstantin Tretiakoff, first demonstrated that the substantia nigra was associated with Parkinson’s disease. Tretiakoff also noticed circular clusters in the brains he examined and named them ‘corps de Lewy’ (or Lewy bodies) after the German neurologist Friedrich Lewy who first discovered them.

1953-1968- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 1b: Historical):

Slide2

The first complete pathologic analysis of the Parkinsonian brain

The most complete pathologic analysis of Parkinson’s disease with a description of the main sites of damage was performed in 1953 by Joseph Godwin Greenfield and Frances Bosanquet.

The discovery of a functional role for dopamine in the brain

Until the late 1950s, the chemical dopamine was widely considered an intermediate in the production of another chemical called norepinephrine. That is to say, it had no function and was simply an ingredient in the recipe for norepinephrine. Then in 1958, Swedish scientist Arvid Carlsson discovered that dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter – a discovery that won Carlsson the 2000 Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine.

The founding of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation

In 1957, a nonprofit organisation called the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation was founded by William Black. It was committed to finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. Since its founding in 1957, PDF has funded more than $115 million worth of scientific research in Parkinson’s disease.

The discovery of the loss of dopamine in the brain of people with Parkinson’s disease

In 1960, Herbert Ehringer and Oleh Hornykiewicz demonstrated that the chemical dopamine was severely reduced in brains of people who had died with Parkinson’s disease.

The first clinical trials of Levodopa

Knowing that dopamine can not enter the brain and armed with the knowledge that the chemical L-dopa was the natural ingredient in the production of dopamine, Oleh Hornykiewicz & Walther Birkmayer began injecting people with Parkinson’s disease with L-dopa in 1961. The short term response to the drug was dramatic: “Bed-ridden patients who were unable to sit up, patients who could not stand up when seated, and patients who when standing could not start walking performed all these activities with ease after L-dopa. They walked around with normal associated movements and they could even run and jump.” (Birkmayer and Hornykiewicz 1961).

The first internationally-used rating system for Parkinson’s disease

In 1967, Melvin Yahr and Margaret Hoehn published a rating system for Parkinson’s disease in the journal Neurology. It involves 5 stages, ranging from unilateral symptoms but no functional disability (stage 1) to confinement to wheel chair (stage 5). Since then, a modified Hoehn and Yahr scale has been proposed with the addition of stages 1.5 and 2.5 in order to help better describe the intermediate periods of the disease.

Perfecting the use of L-dopa as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease

In 1968, Greek-American scientist George Cotzias reported dramatic effects on people with Parkinson’s disease using oral L-dopa. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. and L-dopa becomes a therapeutic reality with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving the drug for use in Parkinson’s disease in 1970. Cotzias and his colleagues were also the first to describe L-dopa–induced dyskinesias.

1972-1997- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 1c: Historical):

Slide3

Levodopa + AADC inhibitors (carbidopa or benserazide)

When given alone levodopa is broken down to dopamine in the bloodstream, which leads to some detrimental side effects.  By including an aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) inhibitor with levodopa allows the levodopa to get to the blood-brain barrier in greater amounts for better utilisation by the neurons. In the U.S., the AADC inhibitor of choice is carbidopa and in other countries it’s benserazide.

The discovery of dopamine agonists

Dopamine agonists are ‘mimics’ of dopamine that pass through the blood brain barrier to interact with target dopamine receptors. Since the mid-1970’s, dopamine agonists are often the first medication given most people to treat their Parkinson’s; furthermore, they can be used in conjunction with levodopa/carbidopa. The most commonly prescribed dopamine agonists in the U.S. are Ropinirole (Requip®), Pramipexole (Mirapex®), and Rotigotine (Neupro® patch). There are some challenging side effects of dopamine agonists including compulsive behaviour (e.g., gambling and hypersexuality),  orthostatic hypotension, and hallucination.

The clinical use of MAO-B inhibitors

In the late-1970’s, monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors were created to block an enzyme in the brain that breaks down levodopa. MAO-B inhibitors have a modest effect in suppressing the symptoms of Parkinson’s.  Thus, one of the functions of MAO-B inhibitors is to prolong the half-life of levodopa to facilitate its use in the brain.  Very recently in clinical trials, it’s been shown that MAO-B inhibitors have some neuroprotective effect when used long-term.  The most widely used MAO-B inhibitors in the U.S. include Rasagiline (Azilect) and Selegiline (Eldepryl and Zelpar); MAO-B inhibitors may reduce “off” time and extend “on” time of levodopa.

Fetal Cell transplantation

After successful preclinical experiments in rodents, a team of researchers in Sweden, led by Anders Bjorklund and Olle Lindvall, began the first clinical trials of fetal cell transplantation for Parkinson’s disease. These studies involved taking embryonic dopamine cells and injecting them into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. The cells then matured and replaced the cells that had been lost during the progression of the disease.

The discovery of MPTP

In July of 1982, Dr. J. William Langston of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose (California) was confronted with a group of heroin addicts who were completely immobile. A quick investigation demonstrated that the ‘frozen addicts’ had injected themselves with a synthetic heroin that had not been prepared correctly. The heroin contained a chemical called MPTP, which when injected into the body rapidly kills dopamine cells. This discovery provided the research community with a new tool for modelling Parkinson’s disease.

1997-2006- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 1d: Historical):

Slide4

Alpha synuclein becomes the first gene associated with familial cases of Parkinson’s disease and its protein is found in Lewy bodies

In 1997, a group of researchers at the National institute of Health led by Robert Nussbaum reported the first genetic aberration linked to Parkinson’s disease. They had analysed DNA from a large Italian family and some Greek familial cases of Parkinson’s disease, and they

The gene Parkin becomes the first gene associated with juvenile Parkinson’s disease

The gene Parkin provides the instructions for producing a protein that is involved with removing rubbish from within a cell. In 1998, a group of Japanese scientists identified mutations in this gene that resulted in affected individuals being vulnerable to developing a very young onset (juvenile) version of Parkinson’s disease.

The first use of PET scan brain imaging for Parkinson’s disease

Using the injection of a small amount of radioactive material (known as a tracer), the level of dopamine present in an area of the brain called the striatum could be determined in a live human being. Given that amount of dopamine in the striatum decreases over time in Parkinson’s disease, this method of brain scanning represented a useful diagnostic aid and method of potentially tracking the condition.

The launch of Michael J Fox Foundation

In 1991, actor Michael J Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease at 29 years of age. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he committed himself to the campaign for increased Parkinson’s research. Founded on the 31st October, 2000, the Michael J Fox Foundation has funded more than $700 million in Parkinson’s disease research, representing one of the largest non-governmental sources of funding for Parkinson’s disease.

The Braak Staging of Parkinson’s pathology

In 2003, German neuroanatomist Heiko Braak and colleagues presented a new theory of how Parkinson’s disease spreads based on the postmortem analysis of hundreds of brains from people who had died with Parkinson’s disease. Braak proposed a 6 stage theory, involving the disease spreading from the brain stem (at the top of the spinal cord) up into the brain and finally into the cortex.

The gene DJ1 is linked to early onset PD

DJ1 (also known as PARK7) is a protein that inhibits the aggregation of Parkinson’s disease-associated protein alpha synuclein. In 2003, researchers discovered mutations in the DJ1 gene that made people vulnerable to a early-onset form of Parkinson’s disease.

The first GDNF clinical trial indicates neuroprotection in people with Parkinson’s disease

A small open-label clinical study involving the direct delivery of the chemical Glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease indicated that neuroprotection. The subjects involved in the study exhibited positive responses to the treatment and postmortem analysis of one subjects brain indicated improvements in the brain.

The genes Pink1 and LRRK2 are associated with early onset PD

Early onset Parkinson’s is defined by age of onset between 20 and 40 years of age, and it accounts for <10% of all patients with Parkinson’s.  Genetic studies are finding a causal association for Parkinson’s with five genes: alpha synuclein (SNCA), parkin (PARK2), PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1), DJ-1 (PARK7), and Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2). However it happens, and at whatever age it occurs, there is no doubt that genetics and environment combine together to contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.

The discovery of induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells

In 2006, Japanese researchers demonstrated that it was possible to take skin cells and genetically reverse engineer them into a more primitive state – similar to that of a stem cell. This amazing achievement involved a fully mature cell being taken back to a more immature state, allowing it to be subsequently differentiated into any type of cell. This research resulted in the discoverer, Shinya Yamanaka being awarded the 2012 Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine.

2007-2016- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 1e: Historical):

Slide5

The introduction of the MDS-UPDRS revised rating scale

The Movement Disorder Society (MDS) unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale (UPDRS) was introduced in 2007 to address two limitations of the previous scaling system, namely a lack of consistency among subscales and the low emphasis on the non-motor features. It is now the most commonly used scale in the clinical study of Parkinson’s disease.

The discovery of Lewy bodies in transplanted dopamine cells

Postmortem analysis of the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease who had fetal cell transplantation surgery in the 1980-1990s demonstrated that Lewy bodies are present in the transplanted dopamine cells. This discovery (made by three independent research groups) suggests that Parkinson’s disease can spread from unhealthy cells to healthy cells. This finding indicates a ‘prion-like’ spread of the condition.

SNCA, MAPT and LRRK2 are risk genes for idiopathic Parkinson’s disease

Our understanding of the genetics of Parkinson’s is rapidly expanding. There is recent evidence of multiple genes linked to an increase the risk of idiopathic Parkinson’s. Interestingly, microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT) is involved in microtubule assembly and stabilization, and it can complex with alpha synuclein (SNCA).  Future therapies are focusing on  the reduction and clearance of alpha synuclein and inhibition of Lrrk2 kinase activity.

IPS derived dopamine neurons from people with Parkinson’s disease

The ability to generate dopamine cells from skin cells derived from a person with Parkinson’s disease represents not only a tremendous research tool, but also opens the door to more personalized treatments of suffers. Induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells have opened new doors for researchers and now that we can generate dopamine cells from people with Parkinson’s disease exciting opportunities are suddenly possible.

Neuroprotective effect of exercise in rodent Parkinson’s disease models

Exercise has been shown to be both neuroprotective and neurorestorative in animal models of Parkinson’s. Exercise promotes an anti-inflammatory microenvironment in the mouse/rat brain (this is but one example of the physiological influence of exercise in the brain), which helps to reduce dopaminergic cell death.  Taking note of these extensive and convincing model system results, many human studies studying exercise in Parkinson’s are now also finding positive benefits from strenuous and regular exercise to better manage the complications of Parkinson’s.

Transeuro cell transplantation trial begins

In 2010, a European research consortium began a clinical study with the principal objective of developing an efficient and safe treatment methodology fetal cell transplantation in people with Parkinson’s disease. The trial is ongoing and the subjects will be followed up long term to determine if the transplantation can slow or reverse the features of Parkinson’s disease.

Successful preclinical testing of dopamine neurons from embryonic stem cells

Scientists in Sweden and New York have successfully generated dopamine neurons from human embryonic stem cells that can be successfully transplanted into animal models of Parkinson’s disease. Not only do the cells survive, but they also correct the motor deficits that the animals exhibit. Efforts are now being made to begin clinical trials in 2018.

Microbiome of the gut influences Parkinson’s disease

Several research groups have found the Parkinson’s disease-associated protein alpha synuclein in the lining of the gut, suggesting that the intestinal system may be one of the starting points for Parkinson’s disease. In 2016, researchers found that the bacteria in the stomachs of people with Parkinson’s disease is different to normal healthy individuals. In addition, experiments in mice indicated that the bacteria in the gut can influence the healthy of the brain, providing further evidence supporting a role for the gut in the development of Parkinson’s disease.

2016-2017- Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery (Part 2: Clinical trials either recently completed or in progress)

Slide6

Safety, Tolerability and Efficacy Assessment of Dynacirc (Isradipine) for PD (STEADY-PD) III trial

Isradipine is a calcium-channel blocker approved for  treating high blood pressure; however, Isradipine is not approved for treating Parkinson’s. In animal models, Isradipine has been shown to slow the progression of PD by protecting dopaminergic neurons.  This study is enrolling newly diagnosed PD patients not yet in need of symptomatic therapy. Participants will be randomly assigned Isradipine or given a placebo.

Treatment of Parkinson’s Psychosis with Nuplazid

Approximately 50% of the people with Parkinson’s develop psychotic tendencies. Treatment of their psychosis can be relatively difficult. However, a new drug named Nuplazid was recently approved by the FDA specifically designed to treat Parkinson’s psychosis.

Opicapone (COMT Inhibitor) as Adjunct to Levodopa Therapy in Patients With Parkinson Disease and Motor Fluctuations

Catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitors prolong the effect of levodopa by blocking its metabolism. COMT inhibitors are used primarily to help with the problem of the ‘wearing-off’ phenomenon associated with levodopa. Opicapone is a novel, once-daily, potent third-generation COMT inhibitor.  It appears to be safer than existing COMT drugs. If approved by the FDA, Opicapone is planned for use in patients with Parkinson’s taking with levodopa who experience wearing-off issues.

Nilotinib (Tasigna® by Novartis) indicates positive results in phase I trial.

Nilotinib is a drug used in the treatment of leukemia. In 2015, it demonstrated beneficial effects in a small phase I clinical trial of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers believe that the drug activates the disposal system of cells, thereby helping to make cells healthier. A phase II trial of this drug to determine how effective it is in Parkinson’s disease is now underway.

ISCO cell transplantation trial begins

International Stem Cell Corporation is currently conducting a phase I clinical cell transplantation trial at a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. The company is transplanting human parthenogenetic stem cells-derived neural stem cells into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. The participants will be assessed over 12 months to determine whether the cells are safe for use in humans.

Neuropore’s alpha-synuclein stabilizer (NPT200-11) passes phase I trial

Neuropore Therapies is a biotech company testing a compound (NPT200-11) that inhibits and stablises the activity of the Parkinson’s disease-associated protein alpha synuclein. This alpha-synuclein inhibitor has been shown to be safe and well tolerated in humans in a phase I clinical trial and the company is now developing a phase II trial.

mGluR4 PAM  (PXT002331) well tolerated in phase I trial

Prexton Therapeutics recently announced positive phase I clinical trial results for their lead drug, PXT002331, which is the first drug of its kind to be tested in Parkinson’s disease. PXT002331 is a mGluR4 PAM – this is a class of drug that reduces the level of inhibition in the brain. In Parkinson’s disease there is an increase in inhibition in the brain, resulting in difficulties with initiating movements. Phase II clinical trials to determine efficacy are now underway.

Initial results of Bristol GDNF trial indicate no effect

Following remarkable results in a small phase I clinical study, the recent history of the neuroprotective chemical GDNF has been less than stellar. A subsequent phase II trial demonstrated no difference between GDNF and a placebo control, and now a second phase II trial in the UK city of Bristol has reported initial results also indicating no effect. Given the initial excitement that surrounded GDNF, this result has been difficult to digest. Additional drugs that behave in a similar fashion to GDNF are now being tested in the clinic.

Immunotherapies proves safe in phase I trials (AFFiRis & Prothena)

Immunotherapy is a treatment approach which strengthens the body’s own immune system. Several companies (particularly ‘AFFiRis’ in Austria and ‘Prothena’ in the USA) are now conducting clinical trials using treatments that encourage the immune system to target the Parkinson’s disease-associated protein alpha synuclein. Both companies have reported positive phase I results indicating the treatments are well tolerable in humans, and phase II trials are now underway.

Living Cell Technologies Limited continue Phase II trial of NTCELL

A New Zealand company called Living Cell Technologies Limited have been given permission to continue their phase II clincial trial of their product NTCELL, which is a tiny capsule that contains cells which release supportive nutrients when implanted in the brain. The implanted participants will be blindly assessed for 26 weeks, and if the study is successful, the company will “apply for provisional consent to treat paying patients in New Zealand…in 2017”.

MAO-B inhibitors shown to be neuroprotective.

MAO-B inhibitors block/slow the break down of the chemical dopamine. Their use in Parkinson’s disease allows for more dopamine to be present in the brain. Recently, several longitudinal studies have indicated that this class of drugs may also be having a neuroprotective effect.

Inhalable form of L-dopa

Many people with Parkinson’s disease have issues with swallowing. This makes taking their medication in pill form problematic. Luckily, a new inhalable form of L-dopa will shortly become available following recent positive Phase III clinical trial results, which demonstrated a statistically significant improvements in motor function for people with Parkinson’s disease during OFF periods.

Exenatide trial results expected

Exenatide is a drug that is used in the treatment of diabetes. It has also demonstrated beneficial effects in preclinical models of Parkinson’s disease, as well as an open-label clinical study over a 14 month period. Interestingly, in a two year follow-up study of that clinical trial – conducted 12 months after the patients stopped receiving Exenatide – the researchers found that patients previously exposed to Exenatide demonstrated significant improvements compared to how they were at the start of the study. There is currently a placebo-controlled, double blind phase II clinical trial being conducted and the results should be reported before the end of 2017.


A personal reflection

As I suggested at the start of this post, this endeavour was entirely Frank’s idea – full credit belongs with him. I was more than happy to help him out with it though as I thought it was a very worthy project. During this 200 year anniversary, I believe it is very important to acknowledge just how far we have come in our understanding of Parkinson’s disease since James first put pen to paper and described the six cases he had seen in London.

And Frank’s idea perfectly captures this.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from Greg Dunn (we are big fans!)