As the amazing Australian Parkinson’s Mission project prepares to kick off, across the creek in my home land of New Zealand, another very interesting clinical trial programme for Parkinson’s is also getting started. The study is being conductetd by a US biotech firm called resTORbio Inc.
The drug being tested in the study is called RTB101.
It is an orally-administered TORC1 inhibitor, and it represents a new class of drug in the battle against Parkinson’s.
In today’s post, we will look at what TORC1 is, how the drug works, the preclinical research supporting the trial, and what this new clinical trial will involve.
Rapa Nui. Source: Chile.Travel
Today’s post kicks off on an amazing south Pacific island… which is not New Zealand.
In 1965, a rather remarkable story began in one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth – the mysterious island of Rapa Nui (or “Easter Island”).
And when we say ‘remote’, we really do mean remote. Did you know, the nearest inhabited island to Rapa Nui is Pitcairn Island, which is 2,075 kilometres (1,289 mi) away. And Santiago (the capital of Chile) is 2,500 miles away – that’s a four-hour+ flight!!!
Rapa Nui is the very definition of remote. It is as remote as remote gets!
Does Amazon deliver to the town of Hanga Roa? Source: Atlasandboots
Anyways, in 1965 a group of researchers arrived at Rapa Nui with the goal of studying the local inhabitants. They wanted to investigate their heredity, environment, and the common diseases that affected them, before the Chilean government built a new airport which would open the island up to the outside world.
It was during this investigation, that one of the researchers – a University of Montreal microbiologist named Georges Nógrády – noticed something rather odd.
At the time of the study, wild horses on Rapa Nui outnumbered humans (and stone statues).
Wild horses roaming the east coast of Rapa Nui. Source: Farflungtravels
But what was odd about that?
Georges discovered that locals had a very low frequency of tetanus – a bacterial infection of the feet often found in places with horses. He found this low incidence of tetanus particularly strange given that the locals spent most of their time wandering around the island barefoot. So Georges decided to divide the island into 67 regions and he took a soil sample from each for analysis.
In all of the vials collected, Nógrády found tetanus spores in just one vial.
Something in the soil on Rapa Nui was extremely anti-fungal.
In 1969, Georges’ collection of soil samples was given to researchers from the pharmaceutical company Wyeth and they went looking for the source of the anti-fungal activity. After several years of hard work, the scientists found a soil bacteria called Streptomyces hygroscopicus which secreted a compound that was named Rapamycin – after the name of the island – and they published this report in 1975:
Title: Rapamycin (AY-22, 989), a new antibiotic
Authors: Vézina C, Kudelski A, Sehgal SN.
Journal: J Antibiot (Tokyo). 1975 Oct;28(10):721-6.
PMID: 1102508 (This report is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
It is no understatement to say that this was a major moment in biomedical history. So much so that there is actually a plaque on the island commemorating the discovery of rapamycin:
Why was the discovery of ‘anti-fungal’ rapamycin so important?!?
Recently a really interesting research report was published that presented several rather amazing findings.
The researchers forced dopamine-producing cells in a rodent brain to start making a protein called neuromelanin and by doing this, they witnessed the occurence of Parkinson’s-like features (motor issues, Lewy body-like structures, and cell death).
The report also suggested a method by which this outcome could be reduced or rescued.
But the amazing part is that neuromelanin was previously considered to be protective and this new finding suggests we may need to rethink that idea.
In today’s post, we will discuss what neuromelanin is, what this new report found, and how this new knowledge could be useful in the context of Parkinson’s.
Prof Heiko Braak. Source – Memim.com
This is Prof Heiko Braak.
Many years ago, he sat down and examined hundreds of postmortem brains from people with Parkinson’s.
He had collected brains from people who passed away at different stages of the condition, and was looking for any kind of pattern that might explain where and how the disease starts. His research led to what is referred to as the “Braak staging” model of Parkinson’s – a six step explanation of how the condition spreads up from the brain stem (the top of the spinal cord) and into the rest of the brain (Click here and here to read more about this).
The Braak stages of PD. Source: Nature
Braak found that certain populations of cells in the brain were more vulnerable to Parkinson’s than others, such as the dopamine neurons in a region called the substantia nigra, the noradrenergic neurons of the locus coeruleus, and the neurons of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (don’t worry about what any of those names actually mean, I’m just trying to sound smart and make you think that I know what I’m taking about).
One feature that all of these populations of neurons all share in common – in addition to vulnerability to Parkinson’s – is the production of pigment called neuromelanin.
What is neuromelanin?
This week interesting research was published in the journal EMBO that looked at the Parkinson’s-associated protein Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2).
In their study, the researchers discovered that lowering levels of LRRK2 protein (in cells and animals) affected the ability of Mycobacterium tuberculosis – the bacteria that causes Tuberculosis – to replicate.
In today’s post, we will discuss what Tuberculosis is, how it relates to LRRK2 and Parkinson’s, and we will consider why this is potentially REALLY big news for Parkinson’s.
Daedalus and Icarus. Source: Skytamer
In Greek Mythology, there is the tale of Daedalus and Icarus.
Daedalus was a really smart guy, who designed the labyrinth on Crete, which housed the Minotaur (the ‘part man, part bull’ beast). For all his hard work, however, Daedalus was shut up in a tower and held captive by King Minos to stop the knowledge of his Labyrinth from spreading to the general public.
But a mere tower was never going to stop Daedalus, and he set about fabricating wings for himself and his young son Icarus (who was also a captive).
Being stuck in the tower limited Daedalus’ access to feathers for making those wings, except of course for the large birds of prey that circled the tower awaiting the demise of Daedalus and his son. But he devised a clever way of throwing stones at the birds in such a way, that he is able to strike one bird and then the ricochet would hit a second bird.
And thus, the phase ‘killing two birds with one stone’ was born (or so it is said – there is also a Chinese origin for the phrase – Source).
Interesting. And this relates to Parkinson’s how?!?
Well, this week researchers in the UK have discovered that a protein associated with Parkinson’s is apparently also associated with another condition: Tuberculosis. And they also found that treatments being designed to target this protein in Parkinson’s, could also be used to fight Tuberculosis.
Two birds, one stone.
What is Tuberculosis?
This week multiple research groups at the University of Oxford and Boston-based FORMA Therapeutics announced a collaboration to identify, validate and develop deubiquitinating enzyme (DUB) inhibitors for the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions, like Parkinson’s.
But what exactly are DUB inhibitors? And how do they work?
In today’s post, we will answer these questions, look at what the new collaboration involves, and look at what else is happening with DUB inhibitors for Parkinson’s.
Dubstep is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South London in the late 1990s. Only recently -in the 2010s – has the culture really become more mainstream. And while I have a hard time appreciating the heavy bass music (man, I am becoming a grumpy old man before my time), it is amazing to watch some of the dancers who robotically embody this form of music:
The guy on the right is named Marquese Scott. Sometimes he simply defies the laws of physics.
The title of today’s post is a play on words, because rather than doing ‘Dubstep’ we are going to be discussing how to ‘DUB-stop’.
Researchers in Oxford have recently signed an agreement with a US company to focus resources and attention on a new approach for tackling neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s.
What they are proposing is a complicated biological dance.
Their idea: to stop deubiquitinating (DUB) enzymes.
What are deubiquitinating enzymes?
On this website, we regularly talk about a Parkinson’s-associated protein called Alpha Synuclein.
It is widely considered to be ‘public enemy #1’ in the world of Parkinson’s research, or at the very least one of the major ‘trouble makers’. It is a curious little protein – one of the most abundant proteins in your brain.
But did you know that there are different ‘species’ of alpha synuclein?
And recently researchers in Florida announced that they had identified an all new species of alpha synuclein that they have called “P-alpha-syn-star” or Pα-syn*.
In today’s post, we will discuss what is meant by the word ‘species’, look at the different species of alpha synuclein, and explore what this new species could mean for the Parkinson’s community.
This microscopic creature is called Macrobiotus shonaicus.
Isn’t it cute?
The researchers that discovered it found it in a Japanese parking lot.
It is one of the newest species of life discovered to date (Click here for the research report). It is a species of Tardigrade (meaning “slow stepper”; also known as a water bear or moss piglet). And for the uninitiated: Tardigrade are remarkable creatures.
Tardigrade. Source: BBC
They measure just 0.5 mm (0.02 in) long, there are approximately 1,150 known species of them, and they have been around for a VERY long time – with fossil records dating back to the Cambrian period (500 million years ago).
The tree of life (try and find the dinosaurs). Source: Evogeneao
But most importantly, tardigrade are EXTREMELY resilient:
- they are the first known animals to survive in hard vacuum and UV radiation of outer space. Some of them can withstand extreme cold – down to temperatures of −458 °F (−272 °C), while other species of Tardigrade can withstand extremely hot temperatures – up to 300 °F (150 °C) (Click here to read more)
- they can withstand 1,000 times more radiation than other animals (Click here for more on that)
- some species of Tardigrade can also withstand pressure of 6,000 atmospheres (that is nearly SIX times the pressure of water in the deepest ocean trench – the Mariana trench! Click here for more on this)
- They are one of the few groups of species that are capable of suspending their metabolism; surviving for more than 30 years at −20 °C (−4 °F – Click here to read about this)
They are utterly remarkable creatures.
Great, but what does this have to do with Parkinson’s? Continue reading
For a long time researchers have lacked truly disease-relevant models of Parkinson’s.
We have loaded cells with toxins to cause cell death, we have loaded cells with mutant proteins to cause cell death, we have loaded cells with… well, you get the idea. Long story short though, we have never had proper models of Parkinson’s – that is a model which present all of the cardinal features of the condition (Lewy bodies, cell loss, and motor impairment).
The various models we have available have provided us with a wealth of knowledge about the biology of how cells die and how we can protect them, which has led to numerous experimental drugs being tested in the clinic. But there has always been a linger question of ‘how disease-relevant are these models?’
This situation may be about to change.
In today’s post we will look at new research in which Japanese researchers have genetically engineered mice in which they observed the generation of Lewy bodies, the loss of dopamine neurons and motor impairments. We will look at how these mice have been generated, and what it may tell us about Parkinson’s.
Walt Disney. Source: PBS
Ok, before we start today’s post: Five interesting facts about the animator Walt Disney (1901 – 1966):
- Disney dropped out of high school at age 16 with the goal of joining the Army to help out in the war effort. He was rejected for being underage, but was able to get a job as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in France.
- From 1928 (the birth of Mickey Mouse) until 1947, Disney himself performed the voice of Mickey.
- Mickey Mouse was originally named “Mortimer Mouse”, but it was Disney’s wife who suggested that the name Mortimer sounded too pompous (seriously, can you imagine a world with the “Mortimer Mouse show”?). She convinced Disney to change the name to Mickey (the name Mortimer was later given to one of Mickey’s rivals).
- To this day, Disney holds the record for the most individual Academy Awards and nominations. Between 1932 and 1969, he won 22 Academy Awards and was nominated 59 times (Source).
- And best of all: On his deathbed as he lay dying from lung cancer, Disney wrote the name “Kurt Russell” on a piece of paper. They were in effect his ‘last words’. But no one knows what they mean. Even Kurt is a bit perplexed by it all. He (along with many others) was a child actor contracted to the Disney company at the time, but why did Walt write Russell’s name as opposed to something more deep and meaningful (no disrespect intended towards Mr Russell).
Actor Kurt Russell. Source: Fxguide
When asked why he thought his great creation “Mickey mouse” was so popular, Walt Disney responded that “When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity”.
Mickey Mouse. Source: Ohmy.Disney
This is a curious statement.
Curious because in biomedical research, mice are used in experiments to better understand the molecular pathways underlying basic biology and for the testing of novel therapeutics, and yet they are so NOT human.
There are major biological differences between us and them.
Not human. Source: USNews
It has been a major dilemma for the research community for some time with regards to translating novel therapies to humans, and it raises obvious ethical questions of whether we should be using mice at all for the basic research if they are so different from us. This problem is particularly apparent in the field of immunology, where the differences between ‘mice and men’ is so vast in some cases that researcher have called for moving away from mice entirely and focusing on solely human models (Click here and here for a good reads on this topic).
What does this have to do with Parkinson’s?
In 2018, there is one particular clinical trial that I will be watching, because the drug being tested could have a big impact on certain kinds of Parkinson’s.
The clinical trial is focused on people with cancer and they will be treated with a drug called TVB-2640. TVB-2640 is an inhibitor of an enzyme called fatty acid synthase (or FAS).
In today’s post we will discuss why TVB-2640 might be a useful treatment for certain kinds of Parkinson’s.
Mitochondria and their location in the cell. Source: NCBI
Regular readers of this blog are probably getting sick of the picture above.
I use it regularly on this website, because a.) it nicely displays a basic schematic of a mitochondrion (singular), and where mitochondria (plural) reside inside a cell. And b.) a lot of evidence is pointing towards mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s.
What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are the power stations of each cell. They help to keep the lights on. Without them, the party is over and the cell dies.
How do they supply the cell with energy?
They convert nutrients from food into Adenosine Triphosphate (or ATP). ATP is the fuel which cells run on. Given their critical role in energy supply, mitochondria are plentiful (some cells have thousands) and highly organised within the cell, being moved around to wherever they are needed.
What does this have to do with Parkinson’s?
Last week, as everyone was preparing for Christmas celebrations, researchers at the pharmaceutic company Novartis published new research on a gene that is involved with Parkinson’s, called PARKIN (or PARK2).
They used a new gene editing technology – called CRISPR – to conduct a large screening study to identify proteins that are involved with the activation of PARKIN.
In today’s post we will look at what PARKIN does, review the research report, and discuss how these results could be very beneficial for the Parkinson’s community.
As many people within the Parkinson’s community will be aware, 2017 represented the 200th anniversary of the first report of Parkinson’s disease by James Parkinson.
It also the 20th anniversary of the discovery of first genetic mutation (or variant) that increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s. That genetic variation occurs in a region of DNA (a gene) called ‘alpha synuclein’. Yes, that same alpha synuclein that seems to play such a critical role in Parkinson’s (Click here to read more about the 20th anniversary).
In 2018, we will be observing the 20th anniversary of the second genetic variation associated with Parkinson.
That gene is called PARKIN:
Title: Mutations in the parkin gene cause autosomal recessive juvenile parkinsonism.
Authors: Kitada T, Asakawa S, Hattori N, Matsumine H, Yamamura Y, Minoshima S, Yokochi M, Mizuno Y, Shimizu N
Journal: Nature. 1998 Apr 9; 392(6676):605-8
In 1998, Japanese researchers published this report based on 5 individuals from 4 Japanese families who were affected by juvenile-onset Parkinson’s. In family 1, the affected individual was a female, 43 years old, born of first-cousin parents, and her two younger brothers are healthy. Her condition was diagnosed in her teens and it had then progressed very slowly afterwards. Her response to L-dopa was very positive, but L-dopa-induced dyskinesia were frequent. In family 2-4, affected individuals (born to unrelated parents) exhibited very similar clinical features to the subject in family 1. The age of onset was between 18 to 27 years of age.
Using previous research and various techniques the investigators were able to isolate genetic variations that were shared between the 5 affected individuals. They ultimately narrowed down their search to a section of DNA containing 2,960 base pairs, which encoded a protein of 465 amino acids.
They decided to call that protein PARKIN.
PARKIN Protein. Source: Wikipedia
How much of Parkinson’s is genetic?
This week Denali Therapeutics released the results of a phase I clinical trial of their primary product, called DNL-201.
DNL-201 is a LRRK2 inhibitor that the company is attempting to take to the clinic for Parkinson’s disease.
In today’s post we will look at what LRRK2 is, how an inhibitor might help in Parkinson’s, and what the results of the trial actually mean.
Denali. Source: Wikipedia
Denali (Koyukon for “the high one”; also known as Mount McKinley) in Alaska is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. The first verified ascent to Denali’s summit occurred on June 7, 1913, by four climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum.
Tatum (left), Karstens (middle), and Harper (right). Source: Gutenberg
Robert Tatum later commented, “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven!”
More recently another adventurous group associated with ‘Denali’ have been trying to scale lofty heights, but of a completely different sort from the mountaineering kind.
There is a protein in most of the cells in your body called “PTEN-induced putative kinase 1″ (or simply PINK1). It plays an important role in keeping your cells healthy.
Genetic variations in the PINK1 gene have been shown to increase ones risk of developing Parkinson’s.
This week researchers have identified a method by which the function of the PINK1 protein can be inhibited and this results in increased vulnerability to Parkinson’s. In this post, we will look at what PINK1 does, how it is inhibited, and what this could mean for the Parkinson’s community.
Mitochondria (green) in health cells (left) and in unhealthy cells (right).
The nucleus of the cell is in blue. Source: Salk Institute
I have previously spoken a lot about mitochondria and Parkinson’s on this website.
For the uninitiated, mitochondria are the power house of each cell. They help to keep the lights on. Without them, the party is over and the cell dies.
Mitochondria and their location in the cell. Source: NCBI
You may remember from high school biology class that mitochondria are tiny bean-shaped objects within the cell. They convert nutrients from food into Adenosine Triphosphate (or ATP). ATP is the fuel which cells run on. Given their critical role in energy supply, mitochondria are plentiful (some cells have thousands) and highly organised within the cell, being moved around to wherever they are needed.
Like you and I and all other things in life, however, mitochondria have a use-by date.
As mitochondria get old and worn out (or damaged) with time, the cell will recycle them via a process called mitophagy (a blending of the words mitochondria and autophagy which is the waste disposal system of each cell).
What does this have to do with Parkinson’s disease?