In a first-of-its-kind study, British scientists have identified new drugs that offer the potential to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease by keeping faulty brain cells from dying.
Experts from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience identified the drugs in the lab using skin cells from people with the progressive neurological condition, which affects one in every 500 people.
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They tested more than 2,000 compounds to find out which ones could make faulty mitochondria — the power generators in all cells of our body, including the brain — stop malfunctioning, which is a primary reason brain cells die in Parkinson's patients.
One of the promising medications identified through the research — called ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) — has been used for several decades to treat certain forms of liver disease.
Based on the new study, researchers said larger clinical trials can now begin to assess the potential of UDCA to treat Parkinson's.
"Parkinson's is so much more than just a movement disorder. It can also lead to depression and anxiety, and a host of distressing day to day problems like bladder and bowel dysfunction," said Oliver Bandmann, M.D., one of the Sheffield Institute researchers. "The best treatments currently available only improve some of the symptoms, rather than tackle the reason why Parkinson's develops in the first place, so there is a desperate need for new drug treatments which could actually slow down the disease progression.
"We are hopeful that this group of drugs can one day make a real difference to the lives of people with Parkinson's."
The study was published in the neuroscience journal BRAIN.
Kieran Breen, M.D., director of research and innovation at Parkinson's UK, said the study is the latest scientific step toward a cure for the disease.
"This is a really exciting time for Parkinson's research. For the first time, we are starting to identify drugs that will treat the Parkinson's – possibly slow down or halt its progression — rather than just the symptoms," Dr. Breen said. "This will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of a cure for Parkinson's. We look forward to working closely with Dr. Bandmann to develop this treatment."
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